Researchers say the financial costs of a deadly pathogen affecting olive wood in Europe could reach more than 20 billion euros.
They modeled the worst long-term impacts of the Xylella fastidiosa pathogen that killed timber fringes in Italy.
Spread by insects, the bacteria now represents a potential risk for olive plantations in Spain and Greece.
The disease can improve the costs of olive oil for buyers.
Xylella is considered one of the pathogens harmful to vegetation everywhere on this planet. At present, there is no cure for the infection.
It can infect cherry, almond and plum wood in addition to olives.
It became intimately linked to olives after pressure was found in wood in Puglia in Italy in 2013.
The organism is transmitted by sucking bugs comparable to bedbugs.
The infection limits the maneuverability of water and vitamins from the tree and over time it wilts and dies.
In Italy, the implications of the disease’s development have been devastating, with an estimated 60% drop in crop yields for the first discovery in 2013.
“The damage to the olives is also causing the land value and tourist attractiveness of this region to depreciate,” said Dr Maria Saponari of the CNR Institute for the Sustainable Protection of Plants in Italy.
“It had a severe impact on the local economy and jobs related to agriculture. “
As well as in Italy, the Xylella bacteria is now present in Spain, France and Portugal.
Tackling the current problem includes eradicating contaminated wood and trying to restrict the movement of plant materials and the insects that spread the disease.
But if these measures fail, what would be the monetary impression of an infection?
In this new study, the researchers modeled completely different situations as well as what would happen if any increase stopped due to the loss of life of the trees.
They also contrast this worst case with an inventory where replanting of resistant varieties has occurred.
Staff made projections for Italy, Spain and Greece, which together account for 95% of European olive oil production.
In Spain, if the infection has spread and the vast majority of the wood has become contaminated and dead, costs could reach 17 billion euros over the next 50 years.
The same situation in Italy would amount to more than 5 billion, while in Greece, losses could be less than 2 billion.
If the speed of an infection is slowed down or if resistant varieties are planted as a substitute, these costs could be significantly reduced.
However, the authors imagine that no matter what happens, there will likely be an impression of shock on the buyers.
“The expected effect could be that there would be a shortage of supplies,” said lead writer Kevin Schneider of Wageningen University in the Netherlands.
“And I expect that if prices go up, consumers will be worse off. “
The authors say that while their assessment appears to be similar to that of the economy, there are also likely massive tourism and cultural losses caused by the bacteria that cannot be ignored.
“You really hear devastating stories of infected orchards that have been inherited over generations,” said Dr. Schneider.
“It is the same orchard that their grandparents once worked on. So how do you assign an economic number to the loss of something like that. The value of cultural heritage would be much greater than we could calculate. “
There is a growing variety of scientific initiatives to try to fight the bacteria, as well as the use of insect repellant clays, vegetative limits and genetic evaluation to find out why certain plants are more prone to infection than others.
Ultimately, the researchers imagine that beating the pathogen would require wood that could be immune to the disease.
“The search for resistant cultivars or immune species is one of the most promising and environmentally friendly long-term control strategies to which the European scientific community is devoting relevant research efforts,” said Dr Saponari,
“Sustainable strategies to reduce the insect population are the other pillar in the fight against vector-borne disease. In this regard, mechanical intervention to eliminate weeds in the spring is one of the most effective applications for reducing insect populations, in fact, several other strategies are also being studied to implement control. against insects, “she added.
While two forms of olive have been shown to have some resistance, the authors demand that the analysis of this space be considerably strengthened.
The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
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