sporos regeneration institute

August 2021

Burning Wood Residues from Olive Tree Pruning

The olive tree is regarded as one of the wonders of the Mediterranean flora and cultivating it was up until now regarded as one of the ones with the agricultural activities with less negative environmental impact. Industrialisation of the olive growing, especially in Spain, have made the environmental  impact on nature and humans is more obvious. The gradual desolation of the countryside, loss of biodiversity and cultural heritage are a few of those. Environmental crisis knows no borders therefore the correct management of the agricultural waste have to be done by all of us.

The EU directive 2016/2284 (NECD) of the European Parliament and the Council of the 14th of December 2016, provides by law the obligation of every member state to control in a national scale a program that will control emissions. More specifically, for Greece it is anticipated that the consequences of the measures will have to achieve the following reductions as per figure 1.0


Forecasted % reduction emissions in comparison with 2005



















Despite the fact that there is no formal acceptance (or opinion) on climate change, the farmer or producer can declare it with certainty that climate conditions are becoming increasingly unpredictable. These changes, for an olive producer can become fatal for a whole productive season and lad to even total loss of produce. Not so long ago, the “Zorba” phenomenon which caused extensive damage to the olive cultivations of Southern Greece as well as the hale storms that happen more frequently now in the summer and destroy a big portion of the production.

During traditional olive harvesting, one stage requires burning wood residues from pruning, after the annual pruning of the olive grove. But with the years passing and the increasingly intensive olive tree cultivation, it has been observed that burning those residues from pruning leads to significant harmful gas emissions being released in the atmosphere. In order to aid the reduction of man-made GHG released in the atmosphere, it would be advisable to reduce GHG as much as possible, from every source possible including putting an end to the burning of wood residues from annual pruning and eliminating it from common practice.

One of the surveys that took place in olive groves around the Mediterranean basin called LIFE ECOIL (LIFE04 ENV/GR/000110) proposed friendly to the environment practices that could bring short term, medium term and long term benefits and determined best practises around olive cultivation. It was established that main environmental problems were connected with bad soil management, burning wood residues from pruning and the use of fertilisers and pesticides.

Additionally, a lot of researchers and olive producers have turned towards alternative methods of residue management in order to keep harmful emissions from entering the atmosphere and to also benefit the olive tree itself. Avery popular practice chipping the wood residues from olive tree pruning and their thereafter use from the tree itself. In relation to burning, this practice can also be used to benefit the soil as well as reduce harmful emissions with a number of benefits for the olive grove in general.

These directives promote environmentally friendly cultivating techniques such as activities that contribute to the preparation of the olive grove. That includes for example uprooting other trees and bushes, levelling surfaces, terrace construction, soil analysis to determine amounts of phosphate rock, potassium fertilisers and record where are the biggest concentrations. Also they push for a great reduction use of fertilisers and use of pesticides and they propose the use of the biomass produced from pruning to be used as organic fertiliser instead of burning it. This allows for better waste management and recycling, which provide secondary substances that when they are put in use, it has been proven that they can be also much more cost effective.

Like we said previously, for pruning residues, we can chip them and incorporate the into the soil instead but also, we can turn them into compost which gives an even better product. We can also turn into a compost the residue from an olive mill, of a winery or any type of farm. Any biomass produced from Agriculture could with the appropriate technique to become a rich soil booster that will improve the quality of the soil and will make the cultivation more resilient. 

An important message here is that olive trees need pruning every year. It doesn’t mean that every year we do drastic applications kai cut which branches but by going every year we will do minimal interventions. The more frequently we tend the tree, the fewer young shoots we need to cut. In that manner we have the tree in a balance which will allow the tree to manage better the soil boosters and the water we give to it. The summer running helps us to remove on time the unwanted shoots in order to save on fertiliser and water for the shoots remaining. In that way the tree will have a more stable production and eventually a better financial output for the producer. A tree that has 70% production a every year will give a higher quality olive oil and better financial output in comparison to the olive grove that is heaving one year and the next year as poor output (biennial bearing)”.

Furthermore, during the applications LIFE Oliveclime και Agroclimawater, they tested the systematic practice of wood chipping and the use of sawdust as a soil booster with recycling at once on location. N that way, the release of harmful emissions was avoided and significant benefits for our olive groves were achieved. The experiments took place for over 5 years in the regions of Messinia, Chania, Heraclion and Lasithiou in collaboration with agricultural organisations which produced very good results. Based on this extensive trial period, wood chipping found a new audience across Greece and the agricultural community is waiting for the government to pronounce it an adaptation measure and to support it nationwide. 

Article Author: Maria Tzannetou

You can find here a Greek version of this Article


Camarsa, G., Gardner, S., Jones, W., Eldridge, J., Hudson, T., Thorpe, E., & O’Hara,

E. (2010). LIFE among the olives. Good practice in improving environmental

performance in the olive oil sector. Official Publications of the European Union,





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