Profitability check of pistachios and lupinsin Congosta

28.01.2013 By: La opinion de Zamora


Being the Project coordinator of dry crop improvement and of carbon dioxide emissions reduction, professor Zacarías Clérigo Pérez of the University of Valladolid explains the key points of the project that are being implemented in Congosta and the achievements they are expecting to attain.

- What is the project that is being developed in an intercommunal way in Congosta de Vidriales about?

- The project has two clear objectives. On the one hand, it aims to improve those lands that are struggling to produce agricultural and forestry products (both timber and fruits such as pistachio or chestnut) in an economical way; and on the other hand, though it is not the main objective because we are working on 5,000 ha of land in Lérida within the same project, the capturing of carbon dioxide.

- So it’s basically about increasing yields on wastelands and capturing carbon dioxide then?

-Yes, because these small plots of traditional agriculture have certain crops that, apart from being profitable because of their products, are profitable because of their CO2 capture, and this second phase is what we want to value too.

- What specific research will be developed on the 25 hectares that the Municipality of Congosta  has granted?

- In Congosta the first thing to do, and this is what we have done this year, is introduce agronomic improvements, including  mycorrhized soil and agricultural techniques different from those used now. In that zone penetration of water is low and the pH of the soil is too low. These two characteristics, together with the fact that the land is poor and has little organic matter and micronutrients, mean that the production of cereals or other products is of low quality or of very low quality.

- Can this be changed?

- What we intend to do is use better techniques than were being used before and also use mycorrhizae and limestone to raise the pH and elevate the soil permeability. This part is purely agricultural and we will focus on it the first year.

- And then?

- Starting in the second year, we will mycorrhize the trees that we are going to plant.The way we are going to do it is, continuing with the cereal but also planting mycorrhizal shrubs, by verifying if we are able to obtain profits with the pistachio, which is in high global demand. We also want to reconcile agriculture with forestry because one of the problems we have in this country is that farmers don’t want any trees. When they see a tree they remove or burn it and those dedicated to forestry don’t like weeds.

-  So you will combine fruit trees with the most common crops of the area?

- We are going to mix (using lines) agriculture and forestry production, but not just trees. We want to think of those trees that are profitable for its wood and also  for its  fruit. We thought of pistachio, but the chestnut that has been there a lifetime is produced in a more formal manner and with a higher quality, which means we can attain better prices. Furthermore we are talking about organic products.

- Without fertilizers and herbicides?

- Yes, we are against traditional methods because, apart from contaminating the soil, producing a traditional mineral involves  a lot of CO2 emissions into the  atmosphere. If we don´t use this method in one way we contaminating the soil and in the other way we avoid the emissions to produce it. We are talking about using products as natural as possible and mycorrhiza and limestone play a fundamental role.

-This technique of mycorrhiza seems new because it is perhaps better known for the production of fungi and mushrooms on trees. How does the technique work and how it will be applied in Congosta?

- Of course, here there are two types of mycorrhiza. On the one hand there is a type of Mycorrhiza that is never used in Spain, used to improve the soil.  At the same time we are going to use the mycorrhiza on trees. It is unthinkable to think about truffles because it is used to treat very calcareous soils, but it can be used for other edible fungi. We are still studying which ones will be more adequate together with all the partners of the project, in which there are specialists in different areas. What we do is coordinate all the experts and contribute our knowledge.

- Are there many specialists working on the project?

Within the group there are agricultural engineers, mountain engineers, fungi specialists, tree specialists, specialists in monitoring with new aerial photogrammetry techniques, with which we´re evaluating every year the future of the plant and actually seeing whether we are succeeding, because this is still a project. We are convinced that this will work out, but as long as the five years are not over yet we cannot see the results of each stage and so we cannot judge whether the success rate is 10, 20 or 50%, or if this is not what we were expecting.

- How do you feel about the initial contact?

- I have been there watching it and the truth is that from a visual point of view we really liked the area. But we're starting. We have planted in November and it is too early to know what kind of results we are going to obtain.

- Apart from the pistachio and chestnut, do you also plan on planting lupins?

- To be precise, at the moment, the only thing that has been planted is wheat. In spring we will plant legume. The legume that goes well with that area for its acid Ph we think are lupins. So we will plant lupins in a month’s time or when we can do it physically, and we will also plant some forage to produce hay for testing considering there are 25 acres in total. We will also try, although we know it’s very difficult it will actually work, with other legume like beza.

- What will the other stages be like?

As I said, the first year is about cultivating arable crops to improve the soil and to demonstrate that this type of land is capable of producing traditional crops with novel techniques. From spring of next year we will plant trees with a novel method; on the one hand with traditional techniques and on the other hand with the waterbox, both of which help the tree to survive the hot and dry summers during the first stages until it is capable by itself to subsoil the ground and take up water and other nutrients from the most remote parts.

- What about the next three years?

- We will use the silvicultural techniques that I have spoken about to demonstrate that in five years you can start producing and that the silvicultural part is profitable. But right now we will continue to produce grain and legumes i.e. rain fed crops.

- What would be the major achievement of this project?

- There are two, but the real triumph of this project would be to show that from a social and economic standpoint this type of abandoned land, which in Spain would amount to 10 million ha of wasteland from an agricultural viewpoint, can be productive and workable. Until now it has not been like this and these lands are only cultivated on in order to qualify for the CAP subsidy.

- What about the second achievement?

- The second milestone, which we've talked a little about already, would be to also demonstrate to Europe and to the world community that Spain, a country that is trading for CO2 emission rights and each year pays 60 million euros for dumping more CO2 into the atmosphere than it is allowed to, is capable of retaining sufficient CO2 . And not only from a shrubby point of view, but even with crops such as grain, which is a carbon dioxide fixer. Now it is even more important because the CAP scheme has been subject of debate recently.

- 'That would be a remarkable victory, but would the administrations propel it?

- It is not the purpose of the project and that depends on them. Once these 5 years are over we want to certify and have the piece of paper that says that one hectare of barley or wheat in Ayoó results in, for example, one ton of CO2. Another question is whether the government will want to be involved and apply it.

Melgar de Fernamental, 1954

Teacher for more than thirty years and a renowned researcher in the region of agronomic issues, Professor Zechariah Cleric believes that the real achievement of the test field of Congosta de Vidriales would be to be able to demonstrate that vacant land where agricultural productivity is poor can be used to grow profitable crops that also keep the soil together and takes up carbon dioxide. Coordinator of a project that has many partners and specialists, he is convinced that these five years of research that have just begun in Congosta de Vidriales will pay off and will demonstrate that the 10 million hectares of unproductive land in Spain could be profitable if  the right techniques are applied. It would also further reduce emissions.