The current fertilization practice in olive (Olea europaea L.) orchards usually leads to excessive fertilizer applications. These are unnecessary to maintain high productivity and growth, may contribute to environmental degradation (Fernández-Escobar et al., 2009a; Giménez et al., 2001), and also cause negative effects on the tree and the crop (Fernández-Escobar et al., 2006, 2008). The low cost of fertilizers in relation to the crop value together with the lack of knowledge of nutrient use of mature trees contribute to maintain such a cultural practice.
Under a rational and responsible use of fertilizers, a nutrient should be supplied only when there are proofs that it is needed to assure normal growth and productivity and when economic response to fertilizer application is expected. Leaf nutrient analysis is the best method for diagnosing tree nutritional status and the need for fertilization (Jones, 1985; Shear and Faust, 1980), but does not provide information about the amount of nutrient to be applied. Predicting such amount is not simple. The performance of leaf analysis annually may reflect the response to fertilizer application (Fernández-Escobar et al., 2009b) and provide a good approach to determine the amount of nutrient to be applied in each orchard when necessary. However, although this technique is becoming popular, the use of leaf analysis is still infrequent in the Mediterranean olive orchards (Fernández-Escobar et al., 2008). Moreover, when the analysis is performed, the interpretation is often incorrect, leading to the application of fertilizers even when adequate nutritional status is diagnosed.
Nutrients removed from the orchard by harvested fruits and pruning material must be available to the tree to maintain normal growth and productivity. Therefore, replacement to the soil of nutrients removed by the crops has been an uncomplicated method of fertilization during the past. However, this fertilization strategy did not provide the expected results, because no increase in growth or yield was obtained if nutrients were already present in the soil in adequate amounts (Faust, 1979). Failure in considering luxury consumption, tree reserves on storage organs, mineralization of the organic matter, reuse of nutrients, nutrient supplied by the irrigation water and rainfall, among other factors, explains the inefficacy of this fertilization strategy. Thus, an estimation of nutrient removal could be of interest to estimate tree consumption and to provide some information about the amount of a nutrient to be applied if leaf analysis indicates the need for fertilization. That is very valuable information to consider in the fertilization program. The aim of the present work was to determine nutrient removal from two olive orchards located in different environmental conditions.
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