> Characterization of territories and demonstration farms
The monitoring of demonstration farms will be mainly targeted on the current condition of their cultivated soils by describing the different types of soil degradation and by classifying soil management techniques. A description of the crops will be carried out (floristic composition of the meadows, crop rotation, types of tillage, fertilization techniques, crop yields). By using rapid and low cost prediction systems (near infrared spectroscopy – NIRS), total organic (TOC) and extractable carbon (TEC), total Kijeldal nitrogen (NTK) and nitric (NO3) of approximately 225 soil samples, 15 per farm, will be evaluated. With these data and the support of a pedologist, 15 demonstration plots will be identified for a deeper pedological, physical, chemical and fertility characterization. The soils of the demonstration plots will be monitored by using the most significant chemical and physical determinations from an agronomic and environmental perspective.
For each farm, it will be implemented an assessment of the environmental and economic sustainability of the current soil management and breeding techniques: 1) the carbon footprint referred to the life cycle of the product (meat and milk) at the farm gate through Life Cycle Assessment, LCA (LIFE15CCM / IT / 000039 Forage4Climate); 2) determination of production costs, through international methods established by the Agribenchmark networks to which CRPA belongs.
At the territorial scale, GHG emissions will be accounted by using the state of art of tools and data sources currently available. The aim is to evaluate the level of improvement that can be achieved with the methodologies and tools identified as best practices.
> Best practices for sustainable soil management and accounting tools
The project will define 15 protocols, one for each farm, to be used in the demonstration phase, relating to: i) best agronomic practices to be used and their declination according to soil, climatic, production and managerial conditions of the demonstration farms; ii) accounting methods for carbon soil and GHG emissions.
The selected accounting tools and databases will work at farm and territorial scale. Concerning the farm level, agriCOlture will identify methods to predict, beyond the duration of the project, the effect that best practices can bring in terms of maintaining and/or increasing soil organic carbon (SOC). The project will also adopt appropriate calculation tools to evaluate the dynamics of the carbon stock at the territorial scale with respect to the different flow scenarios of organic carbon coming from the management of livestock waste. The hypothesis is that this analysis and forecasting tools can bring out and help managing virtuous supply chains of organic matter at territorial scale that meet the needs of areas with a deficit in the carbon stock of agricultural soils and areas with excess of animal organic waste.
> Demonstration and evaluation of best practices
The demonstration action, extended along the last 3 years of the project, will involve the application of best practices on 2 crop years. The area concerned for each farm will be at least 2.5 hectares and will include the demonstration plot already characterized. At the end of the two years of application of the best practices, the same protocol of soil condition assessment adopted ex ante will be replicated on the 15 test fields.
The sustainability assessment of best practices will be performed, for each farm, from a dual perspective: i) environmental, by means of a carbon footprint related to the product life cycle (meat and milk); ii) economic, by determining the costs of production. In particular, all the elements useful to conduct the cost-benefit analysis necessary to identify a compromise between environmental benefits, productivity and costs generated by good practices will be collected. The demonstration activities will be described by “field diaries” focused on the application of the 15 protocols and their adaptations and revisions in each particular case study. These reports will eventually contribute in defining guidelines for the application of the agronomic best practices identified by agriCOlture in the specific context of Emilian Apennine. Furthermore, each farm will host a guided tour and a demonstration day.
Beside the agronomic best practice, the demonstration activity will regard also the calculation of carbon stocks and flows at the territorial scale (municipalities and provinces) in order to test and validate the applied tools.
> A governance model for sustainable soil management
The results of agriCOlture related to soils and to GHG emissions will be analyzed by technical and political stakeholders in order to develop an innovative governance model for sustainable soil management that aims to quantify and remunerate the wide variety of ecosystem services, including those related to climate change mitigation, produced by mountain livestock.
Two working days are scheduled in Reggio Emilia to discuss the proposal for an european Pact for Soil network, identifying shared objectives and means. Following this event, a governance model protocol will be stipulated which will be one of the results of the project. This activity will provide two products: i) a Pact for the soil, intended as an instrument for the management, accreditation, training and remuneration of, so called, custodian farmers; ii) a protocol for transferring the shared model to other European agricultural territories.
> Monitoring of the impact of the project
Life agriCOlture takes into account the following technical indicators related to farm production (yields and hectares cultivated) and to soil conservation:
– crops production regarding the most common rotation (cereal-alfalfa): yield (kg/ha);
– production of animal proteins, milk and meat: kg/year;
– positive balance between stocking and emissions of CO2 eq/ha;
– efficiency in the use of nitrogen at the farm level: yield-N index;
– % of farm surface under sustainable management according to the best practices identified by the project;
– hectares of land where the best practices for soil conservation will be applied.
At the end of the project, the environmental and socio-economic effects resulting from the implementation of agronomic best practices will be evaluated through a cost and benefit analysis (ACB). The objective will be to assess how much the introduction of these techniques can maximize the social, environmental and soil-related benefits.