We apply the Keyline technique to our olive farms to make the best possible use of rainwater and prevent land erosion

One of the main problems for agricultural work on a mountainous terrain like Pallars Jussà is its complicated topography, with slopes that make daily tasks difficult. Moreover, they tend to be areas which act as a funnel in times of major precipitation, causing water to pool up in the soil or be lost as runoff. Ivan Caelles, the agricultural engineer responsible for ERM del Pallars and CEO of OLIBA Green Beer, has solved it by applying the Keyline design technique to his olive farms in Barcedana Valley.

The goal is to optimise hydrological catchment, conservation and distribution. Invented in Australia, this organic farming technique consists in searching for a critical point, or key point, on the farm which coincides with a concave point on the terrain where more water flows through than in other places. The aim is to direct this water flow in a way that spreads it homogeneously across the whole farm. This is achieved by drawing key lines which start from the critical point and continue along the contour lines, creating a slight slope to give the water a bit of momentum and irrigate the entire area.

As many key lines as can be designed on the field are drawn, given that the distances between lines will depend on the planting pattern of the trees. In this case, 6×6 was chosen: the parallels of the lines are placed every 6 meters and the separation between trees is every 6 meters, thereby achieving the pattern proposed.

Thus, at the time of planting, the trees will follow a pattern determined by the orography of the terrain, instead of following the traditional straight-lined, regular grid of furrows. The Keyline method takes advantage of the fields’ irregularities to plant and uses their natural shape to make the most of natural resources, wasting not even a drop of water while preventing erosion, as the water is spread proportionally over the whole area.

Caelles asserts that “this project has allowed us to prevent the loss of fertile soil, and we have solved the problems of water pooling and retention, as well as runoff, by modulating the water flow”. In reducing the speed of water displacement, land erosion is prevented and water is retained to be used again when necessary. “This practice reduces crop maintenance costs, improves production results and fosters and improves the health of the agricultural system, biodiversity, biological cycles and biological soil activity”, he explains.

Olives for OLIBA Green Beer

Caelles hopes to obtain the first harvest from these orchards in about five years. They will be the olives used to produce the extra virgin olive oil ERM Mountain Olive Oil and OLIBA Green Beer, the first green beer with olive in the world.

For years, this curious and innovative agricultural engineer has been pursuing a project designed to shine a spotlight on Barcedana Valley, the landscapes and indigenous olive trees of Pallars Jussà. According to Ivan, “recent studies have identified close to thirty olive trees indigenous to the county. This represents a great wealth of varieties and a long road toward promoting the sensory profiles of olives still unknown today to the general public”.

The ERM Mountain Olive Oil brand, under which he produces some exceptional olive oils, has represented an authentic catalyst for the territory. In May 2020, he surprised the world with OLIBA Green Beer, a new product which combines two of his passions –olives and beer– and provides continuity to the initiative begun with oil. It is an olive beer that stands out for its attractive and particular green colour, its aroma which transports us to the olive groves and its balanced, olive-hinted taste.

In spite of its Czech style, it is a beer of Mediterranean inspiration created in the heart of Barcedana Valley. This is where the concept of “the Mediterranean drink from the Pyrenees” was born, arising from the observation of olive farming in Catalonia, which stretches from the feet of the mountains to the Mediterranean coast, constructing a centuries-old gastronomic, natural and cultural tradition.

OLIBA Green Beer has won the 19th Agricultural Technological Innovation Prize (PITA) from the Department of Agriculture of Generalitat de Catalunya and the ESAO Innovation Award.