El Capricho

Mulching in tropical crops.

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El Capricho

Case Study Contents

About Farm

Farm Name

El Capricho (Jesús Villena).

Year of foundation

2005

Location

El Algarrobo, Málaga (Spain).

Farm area/size of the organisation:

3.5 ha

Number of workers:

2 workers

Farm main activity:

Tropical Fruit trees.

Climate and soil characteristics

Coast of Malaga, Axarquía region. Mild temperatures in summer and winter.
485 mm average rainfall. Sloping terrain with terraces and sandy loam soil.

Measure Information

Description of the measure

Since 2009, when the farm entered organic production, they have tried to improve the soil, increase water use efficiency and enhance nutrition.

Thus, they applied green manure, incorporated pruning waste and plant material, and also maintained vegetation covers, with the aim of creating a layer of surface humus. Since then, they have evolved in terms of management, maintenance and the machinery used to carry out the work.

They have a drip irrigation system with a programmer and solar panels, which has been complemented with a micro-sprinkler system.

Objective of the measure

At first, the main objective was to improve the nutritional aspect by adding organic matter, but over time other benefits became evident. The system conserved soil moisture better, making it possible to reduce the irrigation and improve pest control by the auxiliary fauna linked to the ground cover.

Justification of the choice

Converting to organic production entailed nutritional challenges, which required the reuse of all available organic matter. Soil improvement, increasing the availability of organic matter, increasing cation exchange capacity and improving water retention capacity justify the initiatives undertaken.

Where did You get information of the measure from?

The farmer got his start in agriculture through urban garden projects linked to organic farming. This experience inspired him to become a professional farmer and to convert his father’s farm from conventional to organic farming.

Description of the situation before the measure implementation

Until 2005, the farm was an orchard. Then the avocados were planted. In the early years, Jesús’ father followed a conventional plantation management with occasional use of herbicides, pesticides and chemical fertilisers.

Stakeholders

Stakeholders involved

Cooperatives, agricultural organisations, experimental stations and suppliers.

Description of stakeholders’ role

  • Technical advice.
  • Training.
  • Accompaniment.
  • Marketing.

Implementation phase

Description of the survey done for the implementation

Training and access to specific literature are of great help. The suppliers, the agricultural organisation COAG and the cooperatives have provided information and technical advice, for the organic management system.

Materials used

  • Seed for green sowing.
  • Shredder.
  • Brush cutter.
  • Irrigation programmer.
  • Solar panels.
  • Pumps.
  • Drip and micro-sprinkler irrigation system.

Costs for the implementation

Conversion to organic production can reduce the production of an existing plantation or delay the entry into production of a new plantation.

In the case of Jesús, the conversion was made from year 5, which minimised the impact on the entry into production and on the profitability of the crop.

Implementation / building

At the beginning, they sowed gramineae and legumes for green manure management, which they then incorporated into the soil. Later, they opted to keep the adventitious weeds on the plot. This allowed them to reduce costs, respect the soil structure, maintain biodiversity and adapt to the increasingly shaded lines due to the crop itself.

Required maintenance operations

The climatic conditions (high humidity and moderate temperatures) and the richness of organic matter in the plantation facilitate the rapid development of weeds. Thus, a cut with a brush cutter needs to be done every 2-3 months in order to maintain a well-tended vegetation cover that does not look abandoned.

Recommended knowledge / skills / training / courses / education desired before starting the measure implementation:

Training in organic farming provides a good deal of knowledge about soil and soil management and organic fertilisation. It should be complemented with specific training on fertilisation, pruning, irrigation management, new technologies, ground cover and integrated crop management. And the tools that are best suited to the farm must be known.

Impacts

This soil management has led to a 40% reduction in water consumption and less energy use. Organic management has led to savings in fertilisation, although organic nitrogen fertilisers are more expensive, and in the use of herbicides, although the maintenance of plant covers is more expensive and needs for additional manpower.

The vegetation covers improve soil conservation, reducing soil erosion.

In addition, biodiversity and the presence of auxiliary fauna to control pests and diseases have been boosted.

Irrigation efficiency has been enhanced by improving soil capacity and the use of tools (programmers, drippers, solar panels).

Organic farming requires more labour, which means more jobs and a greater number of annual working days, and therefore more income and population fixation in the region. It is also a factor in attracting a migrant population that provides greater cultural diversity to a region with a strong tourist character.
These crops are exclusive to this region, given its climatic characteristics. Variations in these conditions in the medium term, due to climate change, may have a negative impact on a production structure oriented towards subtropical crops. Current climatic variations are already having an impact on yields.

Innovation

Key element for success

Conviction, training, perseverance and tolerance of frustration are key factors to remain firm in organic management.

Constraints

Physical constraints

The presence of sandy loam soils has required more effort and time to improve their structure and fertility than clay soils.

The proximity to the sea means that in times of drought, saline concentrations increase in groundwater resources.

Technological constraints

Technical knowledge in organic farming is needed in order not to fall into trial and error.

Knowledge of innovations in organic agronomic tools is needed to avoid being limited by the constraints traditionally associated with organic farming.

Acceptance constraints

The transition to organic management requires conviction and patience; critical voices and environmental pressures arise at hard times.

Most farmers see grass as a competitor to the crop, but it is difficult to change this mentality towards seeing grass cover as an ally.

Proposed solutions to above constraints

In addition to mulching, there are commercial alternatives such as amendments with humic acids, fulvic acids, leonardites or commercial organic compounds in gel or pellet format.

The risk of changes in climatic cycles will make it necessary to identify varieties and/or rootstocks that are better adapted to these changes and to the appearance of new pests and diseases.

Lesson learned

Farmers’ experiences

Jesús is very satisfied with the experience. He has implemented a responsible organic management, which provides his farm with economic, environmental and social synergies that are in line with his values and his understanding of farming.

Testimonies

“Agriculture is very demanding; we must be trained and think about any initiative”.

Measure sustainability

Environmental sustainability

These initiatives had important effects: reduced water consumption, increased biodiversity, improved soil fertility and structure, soil conservation, etc.

However, in recent years there have been climatic variations related to the temporal and spatial distribution of rainfall, which are affecting flowering.

Economical sustainability

Subtropical crops (mango, avocado) have experienced an extraordinary boom due to a high profitability, derived from high prices, especially for organic products with high demand in Europe. However, they have a slow entry into production and their productivities can delay a positive return on investment (6-8 years).

Transfer of the measure

Replicability conditions required

  • Knowledge.
  • Convincing.
  • Change of mentality.
  • Availability of technical studies.
  • Dissemination.

Additional Required Conditions for spreading the measure

  • A change in farmers’ mentality; for many, grasses are a problem rather than a solution.
  • In Spain, the introduction of this type of measure will require an economic incentive through the CAP.
  • Areas with soil loss make it advisable to use mulching as a conservation tool.

Probably these measures are more widespread outside Spain. Anyway, implementation is based on the conviction that these measures have a positive impact.

Conclusion remarks

Managing an organic crop starts from believing in the organic system. Jesus’ experience shows us how mulching has helped him to improve many aspects such as erosion control, improving soil structure, soil moisture conservation, irrigation water consumption savings, increased fertility, improved biodiversity, biological control, etc.

Future plans

  • Future plans are to increase mango production, which is still in the early stages of production.
  • Jesus is going to introduce new varieties, trying to find new agronomic and market opportunities.
  • New irrigation equipment and systems will be introduced in order to reduce water consumption.

Open problems

Soil management does not have immediate results, so we must be aware of this in order not to despair and not to abandon measures that will have an impact in the long term.

Ecological management makes it possible to defend better prices, but this type of production requires higher production costs and lower yields.

ES04_07

AGRIWATER project has been funded with the support from the European Commission, with the reference number 2020-1-CZ01-KA204-078212. The content of this website reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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