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Salento Diary (Xylella III)

The next important question – perhaps the most important of all – about the xylella “crisis” regards the nature of the response. Is the destruction of trees and the widespread use of pesticides justified by the situation? And in any case is that the most effective strategy for fighting spittlebugs and xylella? Spittlebugs, it is worth noting, are an indigenous insect and pretty ubiquitous. Unlike the medfly, e.g., the problem here is not the insect itself but, presumably, the bacteria that it helps to spread. Organic growers, not surprisingly, were alarmed by a proposal that would reverse years of efforts to develop groves free of herbicides, pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Moreover, it takes years for an olive tree to become productive so the destruction of trees threatens the very existence of groves affected with xylella. And some of those trees are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years old. Indeed they are protected by regional legislation, and there lies another likely key to this story. But first, is this the best strategy? Various agronomists argue that it is not. Studies from California show that olive trees can recover from xylella. So perhaps they just need to be properly cared for. For the past half century groves here like elsewhere have submitted to the modern agro regime of herbicides, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers. The soil in southern Italy (but not only) according to one researcher has less than 1% organic matter and so qualifies as desert. Perhaps rather than more pesticides what is needed is some attention to the health of the trees and, equally importantly, of the soil. Olive groves are not meant to look like tennis courts. If scientific evidence then argues for a less drastic and more organic approach, why resort to the destruction of trees (and pesticides)? I include a couple of images of trees with scorching, so perhaps xylella and also one of nearby trees being severely pruned. Some argue that such pruning will prevent the spread of xylella; others instead believe that it weakens the tree increasing its susceptibility to blight and perhaps killing the tree on its own.

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