The impact of olive grove irrigation on high-end EVOOs

The impact of olive grove irrigation on high-end EVOOs

2018/18/01 - The experts Mercedes Uceda de la Maza and Rafael López Uceda, from IADA Ingenieros, analyze the effects of irrigation in the olive grove and the importance of its good use to obtain high-end EVOOs, in a year marked in Spain by the lack of water.

The problems detected in the olive grove during these years of drought and the importance of irrigation and its programming to influence the organoleptic characteristics, as in the bitter, spicy or fruity of the olive, are analyzed in this article, which concludes that it is "essential" to adapt the agronomic and industrial parameters to the climatological year.

We look at the sky and, for a change, we find clear skies, no trace of the long-awaited clouds. We have a few years of low rainfall, and summers that begin in mid-May and strive to accompany us in the development of the first EVOOs. These circumstances make the good use of irrigation in the olive grove a basic aspect to obtain a good harvest.

When the olive groves are rain-fed or have not had adequate irrigation, the stress suffered by these trees is reflected in the oils obtained from them, which when tasting them reveal how they have suffered the lack of water during the months in which the oil was formed in its fruits. They tend to be more bitter and spicy, reaching levels that are not well tolerated by all consumers. The increase of these attributes -always positive- is due to the fact that the phenols responsible for the bitter and spicy are produced in the same biosynthetic route as lignin, which the trees synthesize when they undergo stress in order to harden and thus take better advantage of the water available in soil.

We can find olives whose pulp/bone ratio is unbalanced, having much more bone than pulp. When tasting them, they will give us sensations of wood, which differs from the green and fresh wood of the freshly made oils, it is a drier wood, as if we were left with an olive bone in the mouth for a long time, masking other nuances of the EVOO. Another problem in these years of drought is the false ripening, fruits that apparently are mature really have not yet reached their optimum harvesting time.

The oils obtained from these fruits are "closed", that is to say, they have few nuances, they are flat oils. We have collected these fruits prematurely and we have not allowed the EVOO to show us all its virtues.

Traditionally, irrigation was introduced as a technique to increase the average productions of olive farms. Thanks to several researchers who conducted multiple studies that show us that pruning not only had influence on the increase of production, but could control in a certain way the alternate bearing and the maintenance of the plantations, having also a great importance on the organoleptic and chemical characteristics of the EVOOs.

Likewise, a well-dimensioned irrigation, taking into account the intrinsic characteristics of the crop (variety and the agrological environment), together with an adaptation of the applications to the climatological year can be very effective, in order to control the structure of the trees (ratio leaf/wood), the development of the fruit (pulp/bone ratio) and in the lipogenesis process itself.

These parameters offer a very valuable information for the programming of the production of a high-end EVOOs, not only from an agronomic point of view, but also from the planning and decision making in the industry process.

As previously reflected with the irrigation and its programming, it can influence the organoleptic characteristics, as the bitter, the spicy, the fruity of olive; but it also makes us model the process in the industry, from the mill to the conservation in the cellar.

When a Premium EVOO project is defined, it is very important to specify the oil model desired; once defined, it must be produced, and once produced you have to wait for the market to accept it, and you must maintain the characteristics of the final product. For this to be done, it is essential to adapt the agronomic and industrial parameters to the climatological year, and as we have discussed before, irrigation has a great influence on these processes.

Mercedes Uceda de la Maza, Biologist and Expert in Olive Oil Tasting. Quality Department of IADA Ingenieros, S.L.; and Rafael López Uceda, Agricultural Engineer. Quality Department of IADA Ingenieros, S.L.

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