Olives Sustainability

Olive cultivation within the European Union can have both positive and negative environment effects. Olive growing has become more intense over the last two or three decades using an increasing amount of land and water, two resources that are scarce.

Farming was traditionally practiced on upland terraces with low impacts in terms of use of chemicals or extraction of water. The drive to expand production had led to high density planting of olive trees on lowland plains and the introduction of intensive farming practices.

Progress is being made whereby olive farmers receive agricultural subsidies as long as they can show in return that they are maintaining their land in good environmental condition. Producers have made significant investments in order to adopt new growing and processing techniques to improve product quality. Increased transparency and support from retailers and  consumers will provide strength to these sustainability initiatives.

Sardo Foods have advised our suppliers that Sustainability will be an increased focus for us moving forward and that they should prepare for specific programs moving forward. Feedback on progress being made is very encouraging as suppliers are actively involved and remain closely connected to this initiative.

Below are the key areas of concern and the improvements being made as per feedback from Sardo Suppliers.

1. SOIL EROSION

Soil erosion is one of the main environmental impacts associated with intensive farming practices. Erosion reduces the soil’s productive capacity leading to greater use of fertilizers and in turn causing run-off of topsoil, fertilizers and herbicides which are washed into water sources.
Erosion is the result of the combination of many factors such as Soil Type, Slope and inappropriate farming practices (e.g. machine tilling)

Supplier Feedback: New methods of cultivation protects the soil erosion as farmers do not till (plough) the soil for the following reasons:

  1. The olive groves have a flat surface and it is easier to drive the tractor and the rest of the machinery among the olive trees.
  2. Avoiding tilling, the soil gets harder and the erosion is limited especially in areas where there is a high slope. Consequently the erosion caused by the rain is eliminated.
  3. The roots of the olives are not cut and the tree is healthier. Olive trees have roots very close to the surface and they are spread out around the tress holding the soil.
  4. Soil erosion can be limited by maintaining grass cover during key times of the year.

2. RISING WATER CONSUMPTION

Issues related to water quality and usage are important to olive growers. While olive production does not require the high inputs of water as crops such as lettuce or tomatoes, the expansion of olive production has let to water shortages in some areas.

Supplier Feedback: The use of sprinklers (used in the past) is prohibited in the new cultivations and the Government is demanding all the new groves to have the dripping system. In this way we save up to 50% of the water eliminating the evaporation and the growing up of the weeds as the dripping is taking place underground. 

Additional Information: Over-consumption of water is being controlled through the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD). The WFD controls water pricing and requires full cost recovery to be adopted as the guiding rule for water price setting. This in turn reduces the incentives to develop artificial irrigation (the olive yield is greatly increased by applying water).

3. CHEMICAL AND FERTILIZER POLLUTION

The run-off of fertilizers from olive farms into reservoirs due to soil erosion could potentially pollute surface waters. Irrigation methods lead to further impact on the environment.

Supplier Feedback: All chemicals used are their use is approved and authorized by the European Union in order to protect the environment. The new legislation is very strict and the Government Authorities check the farmers’ constantly. The new chemicals are not very strong in order to protect the environment. Limited erosion and underground irrigation systems protect the rivers and the sea from the flow of chemicals caused by rain. The use of the fertilizers and pesticides are recorded and monitored by the Government Authorities.

Additional Information: Traditional olive plantations on terraces can help slow down run-off and improve water penetration. The creation of small reservoirs can produce positive benefits for biodiversity when constructed to take into account the existing landscape.

Soil Erosion
Grass Covering

4. DAMAGE TO BIODIVERSITY

The application of techniques to increase productivity of olive groves has had a negative effect on wildlife and has led to loss of wildlife habitat.

Supplier Feedback: Strong pesticides used in the past have been abandoned and their use is not only prohibited but not available commercially. The new ones are harmless and only target insects affecting the olives. In Areas where we have irrigated Olive groves the population of wild life has increased.

Additional Information: The EC Habitats Directive has established Special Protection Areas of Conservation where management plans carry out restoration and agriculture (using sustainable olive farming practices) and conservation work side by side.