New appointment with the LIVINGAGRO field visits: latest Greek initiative further enhances cooperation between agroforestry research and production stakeholders


A new appointment of the LIVINGAGRO field visits series took place on January 28, 2023 when innovators from the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania (MAICH) in Crete visited three olive oil companies in Makri, Alexandroupoli in Thrace, northeastern Greece to discuss innovations and challenges in the olive sector and introduce stakeholders to LIVINGAGRO and its living labs. Sharing a catalogue of innovations from the December 2021 B2B event in Greece, MAICH researchers described innovations that could be useful to these olive producers and businesspeople, learned what innovations they were already using, and discussed challenges they face.

The visit began at the olive mill and grove of Konos olive oil company, moved on to an olive grove and restored agrotourism apartment of Calypso, and ended with the mill, bottling plant, and olive groves of Kyklopas, plus a tour of a nearby grove with 2000 ancient olive trees. All three businesses own and harvest from their own groves, as well as carrying out agrotourism activities. Konos and Kyklopas are vertically integrated companies that own and operate their own mills and bottle their own oil. Kyklopas also mills other producers’ olive oil, including that of Calypso. None of these companies is actively employing agroforestry practices, but they are taking other steps toward sustainability, they use various innovations, and they are open to considering other innovations. These three family businesses all aim to promote the local Makri olive variety, which is unique to a small area in northeastern Greece, and they also produce other olive products in addition to high quality extra virgin olive oil.

Aware of the effects of climate change, Konos already maintains unusually low temperatures during olive oil production, as well as harvesting some of their olives during the cool hours of the night, putting them in ventilated plastic lug boxes instead of bags during the harvest, using solar panels for much of the mill’s energy, and chopping up small branches after pruning for use as mulch in the grove. In addition to these best practices, their innovations include a full moon olive oil tasting and food pairing agrotourism event, and food pairing information on their olive oil bottle labels.

Spontaneously growing wild asparagus in the Konos olive grove led to a discussion of the olive-asparagus-chicken agroforestry innovation presented at LIVINGAGRO B2B events. The Konos team has already intercropped olive trees and legumes, incorporating the legumes into the soil. After discussing the possibility of characterizing Makri olives with DNA markers, the team from MAICH collected leaves, branches, and olives for DNA analysis at MAICh’s lab.  

Calypso olive oil company is run by a biodiversity, ecosystem restoration and climate action specialist and his mother. Using organic farming methods with limited input and little intervention, they consider their cultivation an agroforestry ecosystem, with native legumes growing wild in their groves, neighbors’ pigs and sheep sometimes grazing in the groves, and impressive biodiversity. They prefer not to disturb the soil by plowing to plant crops, but they have planted various species of trees, which house many nests. They tried putting chickens in the groves, but the chickens left the soil bare, wiping out all the vegetation and decreasing biodiversity, so they discontinued that. They cut grass after the end of May so there is enough pollen for pollination.

We discussed DNA authentication, which they were already doing with another innovator, and the possibility of using it for additional types of marketable certification. We talked about salinity stress experiments at MAICH and Makri trees’ resistance to frost. The Calypso team has already grafted trees and performed small-scale experiments to gather data about soil and productivity, then taken action to improve the soil.

The third company we visited in Makri, Kyklopas, does not actively pursue agroforestry such as the olive-legume intercropping or olive-asparagus-chicken agroforestry we mentioned, but wild pigs do come into one of their groves, and they aim for 0% waste in a circular economy. They send wastewater to a factory to make biogas energy, burn olive pomace pellets to heat their factory, recycle, offer olive leaves to farmers for animal feed, fertilize their groves with manure and compost, and generate so much electricity from solar panels on their roof and in their olive groves that they sell some to the electric company. Noticing a reduction in rainfall in recent years that reduced production in the 40-50% of their trees that are not irrigated, they cooperated with the American Farm School in Thessaloniki to put smart farming sensors into their olive groves. With an antenna on the roof, sensors send information about irrigation needs to a cell phone.

Interested in education and agrotourism, Kyklopas welcomes both schoolchildren and tourists of all ages to their olive groves, mill, and shop. An ancient olive tree is growing next to their parking lot, which also borders a small zoo, a little playground, and their olive groves - an innovative combination near an impressive ancient olive grove with thousands of trees, some more than 1000 years old.

Other innovations were also discussed during these visits: grafting olive trees of different varieties, including Makri; the oliveID app that can help identify olive varieties; the Olive Predictor innovation to help determine the best time to harvest; and innovative olive mill machinery. All the stakeholders we met during these visits were very open to sharing information about their current practices, and considering a variety of innovations.

Dr. Lisa Radinovsky
Department of Horticultural Genetics and Biotechnology
CIHEAM-Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania
Chania, Crete, Greece