Xilella fastidiosa: It’ s already in Spain

Olivo afectado por la xilella fastidiosa

We already have Xilella fastidiosa in Spain and the concern of the agricultural and olive oil sector is enormous. In November 2016, the first case of Xylella Fastidiosa was confirmed in Mallorca and in less than a year, the Balearic authorities have already documented more than 400 cases on their islands.  Subsequently, throughout 2017 jumped to the peninsula and in July 2017 have been confirmed numerous positive cases in almond trees in Alicante, so we now have the bacteria conquering the peninsula. In Mallorca, it has been estimated that the number of trees that become infected grows at a rate of 40 a day, according to the government of the Balearic Islands.

From El Cortijuelo de San Benito we want to keep you informed of the progress of this disease and possible disasters that can cause the entire olive oil sector. If you want to know more about environmental problems, we recommend you read: Organic farming

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What is Xilella fastidiosa and how does it affect the olive oil sector?

Xilella fastidiosa is a bacterium that affects a large number of plants, including some stone fruit trees. However, the focus has been on the olive oil sector, as some varieties of this bacterium are deadly to the olive tree and the olive oil sector is one of the most important in Spain.

This bacteria causes the disease called “syndrome of rapid decline”, a disease that causes rapid drying of trees and leads to death. Some Spanish media have even nicknamed it the “Ebola del olivo” (Ebola of the olive tree).

Beginnings of Xilella in Europe

In Italy and Corsica it has already attacked more than a million plants and its arrival in Spain, the world’s largest producer of extra virgin olive oil, was, according to all experts, a matter of time.

Spanish farmers, the olive oil sector, local and national authorities are extremely concerned about the expansion of Xilella and the eradication plans required by the European Union, which compromises the total removal of vegetation within a radius of 100 meters around the infected area and not plant new trees before the infected soil is free of the bacterium Xilella fastidiosa for at least 5 years.

In the specific case of the Balearic Islands, if we applied this protocol to a crack table, we would leave the island quite destroyed. This could be the farmer’s point of view, but from the practical and real point of view, if Xilella infects all the crops in Spain, the damage could be historical and the olive oil sector would sink.

“These protocols for pest eradication are quite complicated to implement. The regional government of the Balearic Islands is trying to implement them, but we have about 400 infected areas. Eliminating all plant life within a radius of 100 metres around the infected areas means burning everything. Imagine the surface that we should burn and that more and more affected areas are being declared,” Omar Beidas, official head of the plant health section of the Balearic Islands government, told Olive Oil Times magazine.

Beidas added: “As has happened in Italy and Corsica, we are having problems, as are they, with this strict implementation of the EU protocol. If you find an infected plant in any city, you have to implement the same protocol, but we only talk about a few types of plants: olive trees, rosemary, etc. that are affected.

Olive trees and the olive oil sector

One of the big victims is the olive tree and for this reason the olive oil sector is so worried. Imagine that this bacterium colonizes the rest of the peninsula and especially the provinces of Jaén and Córdoba, the areas with the highest production of olive oil, Denominations of Origin such as Baena, Sierra de Cazorla, Sierra Magina, Priego de Córdoba would go to complete disaster.

In addition to the olive tree, Xilella can infect almost 400 species of plants, including: acebuches, almonds, cherries, rosemary, oleanders, vines, figs …

On the other hand, “It is important to highlight the great genetic diversity of this bacterium. Throughout Italy, which is about 100 times larger than the Balearic Islands, only one type of Xylella has been found in five years. In the Balearic Islands 5 strains have been found in only six months” according to Beidas.

Alternatives against Xilella fastidiosa

The regional government of the Balearic Islands has asked the Spanish and EU governments to modify the protocol, in order not to have to take such drastic measures in their territory. According to the experts, the alternatives are containment plans instead of eradication, which would consist of eliminating only certain plants instead of all.

Beidas added: “This would give us a little more leeway in our work, but this will not happen until mid-2018. The EU has not subsidised the containment plans until we have been able to prove that the implementation of the eradication plans have not been successful.

Situation in Mallorca and Balearic Islands

The bacterium has spread throughout the main Balearic Islands, although the severity of the situation varies from one to another and from one species to another. As Beidas points out, more than 50-60 cases in olive plants belong to the subspecies of Xilella fastidiosa called Multiplex, a strain that damages the olive tree but does not kill it. However, if it does wreak havoc on the almond trees, for this reason, the government is focusing its eradication efforts on the almond trees.

According to Gabriel Biel, secretary general of the Farmers’ Union (Unió de Pagesos) of Mallorca, the situation is getting worse every day. What we are asking the authorities to do is to work together with the representatives of the agricultural sector, who are the real victims, and to take the most appropriate decisions together.

There is an urgent need to implement protection mechanisms, but: What could we do to stop the bacteria, to cure the already infected trees, and what preventive actions should we take? Unfortunately, we don’t know yet. We must work together to find solutions and solve this problem, he told the magazine “Olive oil times”.

The strain that has arrived in Ibiza has colonised the natural territory quickly, and centenary and millenary olive trees have dried forever, as Beidas commented.

Photo 1: Romero, another affected plant

Situation in the rest of Spain, world producer of olive oil

Despite the fact that at the beginning of 2017 the Balearic Islands banned the removal of any plant material from the island, the bacteria already landed in Alicante in July 2017, infecting some almond trees.

Let us hope that the authorities and farmers are able to control this situation or that due to the weather conditions in Spain, this bacterium does not spread much more, as I would not like to see the olive groves of Jaén and Córdoba, or the regions of Baena, Priego de Córdoba, Sierra Magina, Sierra de Cazorla, Priego de Córdoba … devastated by the Xilella fastidiosa. A green landscape like the one we have above the olive trees could turn into a brown landscape of dry olive trees. In addition to all the families in Spain who live solely on extra virgin olive oil.

However, speaking with experts in this bacterium, do not believe that it can spread throughout the Spanish territory, as the weather conditions of the rest of Spain are not very favorable for Xilella. Although it is possible that the experts do not want to put in a state of alarm all the olive sector.

Anyway, we will see what happens in the future and look optimistically.



El periódico especializado en aceite de oliva virgen extra “The Olive Oil Times”. Farmers battle Xylella Outbreak on Mallorca. (Agricultores de Mallorca luchan contra el estallido de la Xylella). https://www.oliveoiltimes.com/ 28 de agosto del 2017

El periódico La Vanguardia. Detectado un segundo brote de xylella fastidiosa en Alicante http://www.lavanguardia.com/local/valencia/20170725/4376463870/xylella-fastidiosa-marina-baixa-segundo-brote.html 25 de Julio del 2017

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