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I'm an olive and almond producer in Portugal.

In preparation for this very serious issue, since that the only thing I can do is to minimize the risk of infection, I tell all personnel to spray bleach on trimming scissors for each tree, the case of high density orchards, and for every 10-15 trees (or each row) in super high density orchards.

I also try to monitor for infection vectors like Cicadellidae, and for possible ill trees in the vicinities.

I will report any suspect case to the authorities, be it my neighbours' or my own.

I am also looking for affordable insurance that covers this kind of problem.

Also related to new agricultural issues arising from globalisation and worthy of attention are the zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha), the water hyacinth (Eichhornia ssp.), and the Asian clam (Corbicula fluminea) that obstruct irrigation pipes.

I'm curious, what brought you to Hacker News?

It's fascinating the variety of people who contribute here, and I'm wondering what would bring a Portuguese farmer to a site centered around technology and entrepreneurship.

(I suppose I could equally ask why this site would be discussing a bacterial outbreak in Italian olive trees, and the answer could be "because it's interesting" to both questions.)

I really like Hacker News, and I usually read my tech-related news here first. Farming is kind of the family business, and I love it.

I am also a physicist by training, and thus my interest in technology in general. Agriculture is becoming increasingly technological, and everything from farming gadgets to John Deere tractors hacking has come up many times. There are even some Plasma Physics applications to agriculture, so the interdisciplinarity never ends!

The "because it's interesting" is also an accurate answer!

> There are even some Plasma Physics applications to agriculture, so the interdisciplinarity never ends!

You can't just casually mention this without further explanation! :D

Thanks, finally got around to reading it!

> In explaining the results, Koga says that the plasma treatment speeds up the cell cycle so that the plant and seeds grow faster overall, with reactive oxygen species playing a key role in the effects.

Very cool! :)

> Nevertheless, Edward Bormashenko, professor of chemical engineering and biotechnology at Ariel University in Israel, says the situation was “more complicated than these results might indicate.” Pointing to his own team’s plasma research using seeds of lentils, beans, and wheat, he says: “There is no general approach available yet that can be applied to different kinds of seeds. Much depends on the types of seeds used, the conditions under which they geminate, and other factors.”

That is really cool, but I immediately have a follow-up question: given that plants also rely on a healthy soil ecosystem, which means symbiotic bacteria, and that this plasma treatment definitely will kill any trace bacteria on the skins of these cells, has it been explored if this has any effect?

Kind of like how you read all these stories of how the increase in C-sections results in a loss of transfer of healthy symbiotic bacteria from the mother to the child.

Ah, I feel a bit dumb for not realizing what kind of applications these would be, because I really should know better: back in 2002, when I still tried studying physics, I was part of a committee that organized a student symposium on biomedical technology. One of the speakers was Eva Stoffels, who had recently invented a low-energy plasma needle. Believe it or not, she claimed her motivation was ridding the world of the dental drill.

It's actually really interesting what you can do with plasma's in a biomedical context: bacteria are killed off really quickly by them because they lack a cell wall, without destroying human cells. At higher intensities, the plasma first breaks down the proteins connecting cells without killing them. At even higher intensities, they trigger apoptosis: programmed cell death without inflammations. Oh, and cancer cells are less resilient against them.

In the case of Stoffels' plasma needle, the idea was that it would destroy the infection while leaving healthy tissue intact. Not only that, her team found that the plasma's ionized the teeth in such a way that enamel production was increased. It sounded amazing at the time, but I guess it's hard to get this stuff out of the lab into the medical market though, since it has been over fifteen years now.

> bacteria are killed off really quickly by them because they lack a cell wall, without destroying human cells.

CORRECTION: I mixed up my terminology here. Bacteria have a cell wall (as do plants), human cells have a cell membrane[0][1]. But our cell membrane, as well as the cell wall of plant cells, are better at keeping the plasma ions out than the bacterial cell wall. In fact, the reason high plasma doses trigger apoptosis is because we actually use plasma ions as a cellular communication channel, IIRC. Would be hard to do that if our cells weren't protected against free plasma ions, right?

So the point still stands that bacteria die from plasma ion bombardment at doses that are harmless to human and plant cells.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cell_wall#Bacterial_cell_walls

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cell_membrane

I'm a programmer and I ended up following a farmer on Youtube [1] originally because he walked through all the tech he used on his tractor (ie, Fieldview) and elsewhere on the farm in a couple videos. I watch his videos whenever they come up now.

I love the level of organization and precision that industry is gaining. It's a good inspiration for software in other traditional areas (combined with practical AI applications and DIY hardware as well).

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jwz2NribLYo

To tie this all together, I'm a programmer and (small time) olive farmer who worked on FieldView, among other products.

Small world.

I come to Hacker News for these kind of random recommendations.

A couple times a year it really pays off with random Gold you wouldn't get from any other forum.

Wasn't expecting such an interesting comment here! So many links to read later! Just came here because I like olive oil

> agriculture is becoming increasingly technological

depends, the european CAP has subsidized old-style agriculture which has left many regions way behind, and the regulatory frameworkd is so tight that, despite the fact that many countries are producing a lot of research (on GMOs for example), it's not likely to ever be used.

I wonder how big is technology adoption in Portugal

Subsidizing old-style agriculture has two major benefits in my opinion: i) it allows for a smoother transition towards more advanced practices without crushing regular farmers and ii) it helps containing production surpluses, which has been, historically, a major concern in the European Union.

Regulations also help with avoiding surpluses, raising the bar for food safety, and have the added benefit of (arguably) fostering adaptability while giving the Union a relative protection from external markets.

Regarding the technological adoption in Portugal, I guess it depends on the sector you're considering. I really can't speak for other areas, but in the case of agriculture there have been some major investments in the past that allow for more productive practices even if not supported by major breakthroughs. It's mostly automation of harvesting, adoption of new practices and new pesticides, quality control and more training.

So far behind that there is still a local economy based around farm work and hedgerows for wildlife.

Both those things may be regarded by many people as putting them out in front.

Can you invert a binary tree?

No. But I did some research on tree-like hierarchical associative memories. They have branches and all!

Do you use electronics to monitor / help farming ?

Yes: not considering everything that comes with a tractor these days, it's basically irrigation programmers, pH meters, humidity probes, sonars and speed-adjustment controllers for sprayers.

I hope someday I will be able to show HN some simple electronics of my own.

Interesting, do you think they improve yield and/or decrease workload ?

The irrigation controls have a direct and significant impact in yield. Other tools raise profitability by contributing to greater efficacy and less waste. The pH meter, for example, pretty much payed itself the first time it was used.

I'm asking because I was interested in reviving (at my scale) farming on my mother's caribbean island. Lots of space, sun and rain, but farming is still seen as a burden (remains of colonialism organization). I think there's a lot of things to be improved to make it both simpler, greener (ketone was used for decades there). Ultimately to give people back the amazing vegetables that grow there naturally and avoid importing low quality ones (also social benefits of people being in nature more).

Do you have advices or references to read about this ?

I know nothing about agriculture in the Caribbean, but I would suggest taking advantage of the local produce and starting there.

Do you have any ideas on what you want to grow?

I checked the Caribbean Agriculture Agricultural Research and Development's website (www.cardi.org) for some information. They have annual reports, that stop at 2011 for some reason. I would read some of them to get an idea of what are the current trends.

One idea that comes to mind after reading the 2011 report is producing high quality seeds. Grain prices for direct consumption are not as interesting.

I would also search for local farming associations to get to know what people are doing.

I suspect that the Caribbean will be more susceptible to climate change than other regions, so food security might become very important in a near future.

Good luck!

Mostly local indeed, but I don't think all local would make a fully balanced diet so maybe a few other things. If you step outside the road you can easily find trees loaded with varieties of oranges, citrus, coconuts, avocados .. I'd start with that and see for the rest

Many thanks for the links, I don't think I would have googled for that.

I will ask local farmers when I get the chance to, but few reports that I had by inhabitants is that .. farming is mostly avoided (laziness, pollution, whatever). To the point where they import things that used to grow locally from netherlands.

I'm also surprised about the climate change thing, I imagined a volcanic island to be too dynamic to be affected as much as, say, Europe.

There are organizations out there like the Puerto Rico Resilience Fund. Maybe they might be able to help/know someone. I read an article that sounds like they have a great solidarity network.

Wow! You need to check out Augmenta.ag

It is not uncommon to own olive orchards in southern europe (a family thing). I have olives too.

Same here, family tradition. Hello from Slovenia. We are also closely monitoring the situation in Italy. There are other plants that can be infected by X. fastidiosa and should be monitored for signs of disease for example here we are worried about oleander plants that were imported from South Italy.

Ditto (from Croatia).

I never understood the obsession with oleander around these parts. It's (in my humble opinion) not any prettier than "native" ornamentals, and it's toxic to boot.

Add to that list that it's apparently an eager vector for X. fastidiosa...

Olive trees are planted decoratively and for crops here, but they're messy trees to have in city neighborhoods.

The wild variety (Olea oleaster) is not as messy.

I spent a few days in around Beja in Baixo Alentejo this year, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beja,_Portugal The area with new new olive plantations is simply staggering as producers race to capitalize on the shortages in other Mediterranean countries. The fields (in effect, mini prairies) are so large I think this is only going to hasten the spread of disease it will simply be impossible to exercise proper hygiene or quarantine procedures over such large areas.

I wish all growers were as responsible and fore-sighted as you, good luck.


One way to minimize the risk is to quarantine the batches in stub nurseries, and to be as zealous as one can regarding the sanitary passports.

In the past, Alentejo had many orchards that, thanks to the State policy of the dictatorial regime, were drastically replaced by large fields for cereal production. This resulted in what is now known as the pseudo-steppe (of a particular ecological interest), which is recognized today as the traditional landscape of Alentejo.

Many regret the sudden change into olive production, but few know how things were different a century ago.

E como era a região, antigamente, antes do Estado Novo? Que interessante.

Só aí à dois anos é que aprendi que o eucalipto que tanto cobria o mato ao redor da aldeia, quando eu era pequeno, não é natural na europa.

Segundo sei havia mais árvores de fruto: laranjais, pomares, figueiras, e também amendoais. Os olivais eram de sequeiro, e no meio fazia-se cereal.

Zebra mussels are a big problem where I grew up. The bay of Green Bay is very unfriendly to the barefoot swimmer because of them (they leave sharp little shells behind). I can't really think of a way to get rid of them short of making some sort of robotic fleet to go and kill them all.

Even worse, the DNR doesn't really want to get involved for fear of upsetting the ecosystem. Someone went as far as to make a machine that makes faux sand from zebra mussel shells (which pile up everywhere along the shore), but he got shutdown because of the unknown environmental impact.

I’m unfamiliar with the particulars here. Do you have to plant olives and almonds in different fields or do they mostly like the same sun soil and water conditions?

There has been a push by some people to plant multiple perennials in the same fields to improve soil quality but also to reduce the ease of spread of pathogens (because the next potential host is far away by insect and spore standards).

Would it make sense in this case, especially if you’re cleaning tools as a prophylaxis as well?

They're in different fields. Almond trees are more susceptible to soil moisture and need better drainage. Pest control is different, and having them all together means farmers would have to spray both crops for a problem only one of them has, and a given pesticide may be allowed for almond trees but not for olive trees (e.g. the insecticide phosmet is not allowed in olive trees destined for olive oil; lambda-cyhalothrin applications are limited to two per campaign in olive orchards; many recommend against using glyphosate for weed control in the first years of an almond orchard.)

There are some annuals that might be interesting, such as clover, that help with erosion and nitrogen fixation. Native plants serve as buffers for auxiliary species and some (Brassicaceae) act as a prophylactic against fungal infections (Verticillium). Innoculation with mycorrhizae also helps.

Perennials might be interesting in riparian zones, to help with drainage and unusual surges of flow.

Portuguese (Alentejano) fellow with some olive trees (not aimed at production) - if this spreads do you think it will start in the south or it won't matter?


I don't think it will matter, because many times the problem starts at the nursery. There are many nurseries, both inside the EU but also outside, like Morocco for example. When orchards are being installed across the country, it really could start anywhere. Weather does not seem to have any importance in the spreading of the disease.

What happened with the palm weevil (Rhynchophorus ferrugineus) doesn't necessarily apply here: X. fastidiosa infects a wide range of plants including ornamental plants, so it is really a matter of 'when', not 'if' or 'where'.[1]

As of February 2017, there were 132 confirmed cases in Balearic Islands that are now considered lost for the bacteria.[1] As far as I know, there are no confirmed cases in Morocco, which is why many farmers look there for safe nurseries.

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xylella_fastidiosa#Hosts [2]https://www.elmundo.es/baleares/2017/02/28/58b5aec5e2704e067... (Spanish)

Are there any sensors you can use to monitor health of trees programmatically?

"These plant defenses do not seem to hinder the movement of X. fastidiosa. Occlusion of vascular tissue, while a normal plant response to infection, makes symptoms significantly worse: as the bacteria itself also reduces vascular function, a 90% reduction of vascular hydraulic function was seen in susceptible Vitis vinifera."

Some type of low energy Bluetooth moisture sensors or a sensor you can stick in the tree itself to monitor reduction in "vascular hydraulic function? of it's xylem tissue?

That wouldn't scale because of the range and topology of BLE. Solar-powered micropower 900 MHz modules with built-in microcontrollers would be a basis for a viable solution. 900 MHz carries much further for a given power and isn't as susceptible to attenuation due to foilage.

Source: did industrial 900 MHz and 2.4 GHz module testing, once upon a time.

Very cool, thanks for the info!

I know next to nothing in this area, but what is the possibility of grafting non-susceptible varietals onto the olive trees? I know that worked for France back when they grafted Texan vines onto their own during the grape phylloxera epidemic - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_French_Wine_Blight

There are no known cultivars of olive that are resistant to X. fastidiosa.

Phylloxera attacks the root, and so grafting with resistant stocks protects the scion.

In the case of X. fastidiosa, the bacteria can spread on the whole adult structures of the plant when infected vectors feed on the xylem, so grafting is not a solution.

In Portugal, Phylloxera became a synonym for madness, since the losses were colossal. I fear that Xylella fastidiosa might become the next "madness"...

Lake Winnipeg, near Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, is the 11th largest fresh water lake in the world and became infected with zebra mussels in 2015. Already, things are looking bleak.

I'm curious: Are there growing concerns and stress about rain patterns (climate/weather), desertification and irrigation water rights?


Climate change has brought difficulties in weather forecasting and dam management. Major rivers in Portugal have their sources in Spain, which gives this country a relative position of power in water storage in times of need. In the past, Portugal did make the case that Spain did not respect the law regarding water usage. Weather extremes are also important because of damage and insurance coverage.

Irrigation based in artificial reservoirs creates the risk of salination, which is already being monitored. I get regular reports on the quality of the water I use.

Are there any sensors you can use to monitor health of trees programmatically?

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