Sustainability of High-Density Olive Orchards: Hints for Irrigation Management and Agroecological Approaches

Justino Sobreiro, Maria Isabel Patanita, Manuel Patanita, Alexandra Tomaz

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
33 Downloads (Pure)


The production of olive oil in Portugal and other countries of the Mediterranean region has greatly increased in recent years. Intensification efforts have focused on the growth of the planted area, but also on the increase of the orchards density and the implementation of irrigation systems. Concerns about possible negative impacts of modern olive orchard production have arisen in the last years, questioning the trade-offs between the production benefits and the environmental costs. Therefore, it is of great importance to review the research progress made regarding agronomic options that preserve ecosystem services in high-density irrigated olive orchards. In this literature review, a keywords-based search of academic databases was performed using, as primary keywords, irrigated olive orchards, high density/intensive/hedgerow olive orchards/groves, irrigation strategies, and soil management. Aside from 42 general databases, disseminated research, and concept-framing publications, 112 specific studies were retrieved. The olive orchards were classified as either traditional (TD) (50–200 trees ha−1), medium-density (MD) (201–400 trees ha−1), high-density (HD) (401–1500 trees ha−1), or super-high-density (SHD) orchards (1501–2500 trees ha−1). For olive crops, the crop coefficient (Kc) ranges ranges from 0.65 to 0.70, and can fall as low as 0.45 in the summer without a significant decrease in oil productivity. Several studies have reported that intermediate irrigation levels linked with the adoption of deficit irrigation strategies, like regulated deficit irrigation (RDI) or partial rootzone drying (PRD), can be effective options. With irrigation, it is possible to implement agroecosystems with cover crops, non-tillage, and recycling of pruning residues. These practices reduce the soil erosion and nutrient leaching and improve the soil organic carbon by 2 to 3 t C ha−1 year−1. In this situation, in general, the biodiversity of plants and animals also increases. We expect that this work will provide a reference for research works and resource planning focused on the improvement of the productive and environmental performance of dense irrigated olive orchards, thereby contributing to the overall enhancement of the sustainability of these expanding agroecosystems.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2486
Number of pages20
JournalWater (Switzerland)
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jul 2023


  • hedgerow
  • high density
  • irrigated olive orchards
  • irrigation strategies
  • soil management


Dive into the research topics of 'Sustainability of High-Density Olive Orchards: Hints for Irrigation Management and Agroecological Approaches'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this