Olive Cultivation, Its Impact on Soil Erosion and Its Progression into Yield Impacts in Southern Spain in The Past as A Key to A Future of Increasing Climate Uncertainty

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This article is intended as a review of the current situation regarding the impact of olive cultivation in Southern Spain (Andalusia) on soil degradation processes and its progression into yield impacts, due to diminishing soil profile depth and climate change in the sloping areas where it is usually cultivated. Finally, it explores the possible implications in the regional agricultural policy these results might have. It tries to show how the expansion and intensification of olive cultivation in Andalusia, especially since the late 18th century, had as a consequence an acceleration of erosion processes that can be identified by several indicators and techniques. Experimental and model analysis indicates that the rate of soil erosion accelerated since the expansion of mechanization in the late 1950s. In addition, that unsustainable erosion rates have prevailed in the region since the shift to a more intense olive cultivation systems by the end of the 17th Century. Although agroenvironmental measures implemented since the early 2000s have reduced erosion rates, they are still unsustainably high in a large fraction of the olive area in the region. In the case of olive orchards located in steeper areas with soils of lower water-holding capacity (due to coarse texture and stone content), cumulative erosion has already had a high impact on reducing their potential productivity. This is one of the factors that contributes towards increasing the gap between these less intensified orchards in the mountainous areas and those in the hilly areas with more gentle slopes, such as for instance the lower stretches of the Guadalquivir River Valley. In the case of olive orchards in the hilly areas with better soils, easier access to irrigation and lower production costs per unit, the efforts on soil conservation should be oriented towards limiting off-site damage, since the soil water-storage function of these soils may be preserved in the medium term even at the current soil erosion rates. The assessment made in this manuscript should be regarded as an initial approximation, since additional efforts in terms of increasing experimental records (for current or historical erosion) and of improving model analysis, with more comprehensive studies and more robust calibration and validation processes, are required.

José A. Gómez
Juan Infante-Amate
Manuel González de Molina
Tom Vanwalleghem
Encarnación V. Taguas
Ignacio Lorite