Co-financed by the European Union under the LIFE CCM 2018 Programme, Life agriCOlture investigates the contribution that animal husbandry can play, in mountain areas, for soil protection and climate change mitigation. For this aim, by working in a paradigmatic context of mountain livestock, it tests and evaluates best practices related to breeding indicated by scientific research as effective for the protection of soil organic carbon and the reduction of GHG emissions. In parallel with their application and evaluation, Life agriCOlture systematizes and disseminates its best practices within an innovative territorial contract for the production of agro-climatic-environmental services.
Soil threats and climate issues in a mountain territory specialized in livestock farming
The forage and livestock system of the Emilian Apennines represents, for Life agriCOlture, a paradigmatic case study, concerning a mountain territory of southern Europe, of soil threats due to agricultural practices but also, because of the high level of productive and social organization expressed here by the Parmigiano Reggiano supply chain, an ideal context for testing a transition, at the territorial scale, towards a sustainable use of agricultural soil.
Therefore, alongside the exceptional strengths and potentialities of the Parmigiano Reggiano supply chain, Life agriCOlture highlights, in the forage and livestock system of the Emilian Apennines, a weakness in the spread of agricultural practices that in many situations prove not to be suitable with the hydrogeological fragility of this territory. As a consequence, the loss of fertile soil and its organic matter content – due to erosion, landslides, abandonment – seems to undermine the material reproduction of this landscape and, immediately, to compromise the productive, energetic and therefore climatic performance of livestock farms.
Technical / methodological solution to be demonstrated
To counteract the hydrogeological impact of the livestock sector in the Emilian Apennines and, conversely, to fully reveal its potentialities in terms of soil protection and climatic performances, Life agriCOlture proposes to re-think the entire production cycle of the breeding supply chain of this specific context consistently to a more rational and efficient use of soil. A proposal that, by updating a classical paradigm of 19th century agronomy (Haussmann, 1950; Draghetti, 1948), assumes soil and organic matter coming from husbandry as main farm’s resources.
Within this framework, Life agriCOlture elaborates and proposes, for each of its 15 demonstration farms, a work protocol that assumes and declines, with respect to the specificities of each farm organization model, best practices indicated by scientific research as effective for the protection of soil organic carbon, for the reduction of GHG emissions and, at the same time, for increasing economic and environmental performances of mountain livestock farms. Work protocols that are designed by choosing and applying specific mitigation strategies (MS), introduced by the project as conceptual and applicative tools effective in defining the functionalities and performances required to the best practices applied by farms. Consistently to the ambition of rethinking the entire milk production cycle, the 18 mitigation strategies designed by Life agriCOlture embrace the following 4 areas:
In parallel with their application and evaluation, Life agriCOlture systematizes and upscale the application of its best practices within an innovative territorial contract – the “Pact for Soil” – stipulated between public bodies with a mandate for land management and farmers, accredited as “soil guardians”, that accept to implement specific work protocols based on Life agriCOlture mitigation strategies. The Pact for Soil, whose methodology will be discussed between a network of European mountain territories, will support and coordinate – economically and technically – the activity of mountain farmers in producing their fundamental agro-environmental-climatic goods linked with the conservation and reproduction of soil.
Expected results and climate action related benefits
The results coming from the application of best practices will be monitored: i) in their capacity of guarantee soil protection, through soil analysis realized ante and post operam; ii) in their overall mitigation effects on milk productive cycle, through Life Cycle Analysis (LCA); iii) in their productivity and economic feasibility compared to business-as-usual practices.
From the point of view of climate benefits coming from best practices, the main indicators adopted concern: i) the UAA managed with Life agriCOlture best practices; ii) the carbon footprint of the 15 demonstration farms.
The expected results concerning these two indicators are the following: i) at least 2.5 hectares of UAA for each demonstration farm, with an increase of this area of 5% at the end of the project; ii) a reduction of the CO2 equivalent emissions of 5% at the end of the project, with a reduction of about 1.178 tons of CO2 emitted by the 15 demonstration farms.
Eventually, the benefits coming from the application of best practices and their systematization and upscaling through the “Pact for Soil” contract solution will be evaluated through a cost-benefit analysis.