The project, underway since 2017, plans to mechanize and revise the extraction systems, modernizing the peel so that it is more productive, as well as improving occupational health and safety conditions in subculture
The absence of mechanization in cork extraction work is one of the main problems that subericulture involves, that is, forestry applied to corks.
Uncovering is still carried out in the 21st century as it was more than two hundred years ago: Manually, with the help of an ax and crowbar. Therefore, modernization is necessary.
The conditions in which the uncovering is carried out make this profession unattractive for the new generations, due to the temporary nature of the work, the difficulty involved in handling the ax (requires strength and skills), and the dangerous nature of the work (sometimes involves climbing the tree).
As a result, the specialized workforce is in short supply and aging, and moreover, they work with serious security gaps.
Mechanize extraction systems
Created in 2017, the Go Suber Operative Group is an innovation project on the modernization of the peel to improve productivity, subsidized under the National Rural Development Program 2014-2020.
"Integrated by entities that include the entire sector, from cork owners to institutes, associations and research centers, the Group has already passed the first creation phase and is currently preparing the innovation project", explains Mariola Sánchez , Dr. Forestry engineer and head of the Cork Laboratory at the National Institute of Agricultural and Food Research and Technology (INIA), one of the members of the project.
The Go Suber project contemplates the development and testing in several corks of a new machine to make the cuts in the cork instead of the axe, analyzing its capacity to extract the cork without damaging the cork generating layer, and comparing its performance and ergonomics with the traditional system.
The work is extended to other tools that perform auxiliary operations in the extraction.
These developments will be tested in the three cork territories par excellence in Spain: producing areas of Andalusia, Extremadura and Catalonia.
In the end, the goal is to introduce mechanization in an area that does not have it, overcoming the pitfalls of some machines developed some time ago that did not meet expectations.
Likewise, it aims to improve the safety and health conditions in the work of peelers and review the extraction procedures, considering for example extending the period of work associated with peeling, now reduced to the summer season.
The second part of the project will focus on improving the productivity of corks, seeking an improvement in the commercialization and valorization of cork and the by-products of the cork industry.
In the end, the challenge is to establish technical bases for an advanced suberi-culture, which allows a development of the cork sector looking to the future, preserving traditional knowledge, within the framework of safety and health systems adapted to the 21st century, specific for the work in corks, and giving as a result the obtaining of raw material in greater quantity and quality in an orderly and sustainable way.