Case study 9: Italy: Diversification of durum wheat cropping systems in semi-arid environment with sulla

Cluster 2: Crop diversification under adverse conditions

The identification of suitable pathways for innovative agronomic solutions and value chain options represent a key objective in the case study, in an agro-climatic context offering narrow alternatives in terms of crop diversification. Farmers are already testing sulla in rotation with durum wheat to scout to what extent sulla may represent a valid agronomic and economic option in Sicily.

What are the main problems underlying the emergence of the case study?
Economic sustainability is the main entry point framed in an environmental sustainability perspective with soil fertility and erosion being major concerns.
The identification of suitable pathways for innovative agronomic solutions and value chain options represent a key objective of the case study in an agro-climatic context offering narrow alternatives in terms of crop diversification (scarce irrigation facilities, random pluviometry, semi-arid conditions in hilly internal areas).
Value chain diversification will be a major challenge and a key focus of the case study. Barriers are both environmental (the semi-arid condition constrains diversification options) and cultural (resistance to exploring agronomic and marketing alternatives). The sociocultural lock-ins should not be insurmountable as case study actors see room for maneuvering.

How is the problem addressed and which actors are involved?
Starting from informal gatherings of diverse actors, a ‘Sulla Club’ got established to scout to what extent sulla may represent a valid agronomic and economic option in Sicily. The ‘Sulla Club’ pools together various actors in the value chain (farmers, breeders, millers, and researchers) to discuss emerging issues in Sicilian arable crops.
The case study is just partially ongoing: farmers are already testing sulla in rotation with durum wheat (and few other crops) and already set up a multi-actor dialogue. Two farms will be pivotal in the case study; they should have a similar size, entrepreneurial competence, and interest in exploiting sulla through a biogas facility in parallel to the forage use for livestock but differ in relation to the method of production -  one being conventional and the other, organic. Other organic farmers will be involved in a participatory assessment of the case study without directly hosting experiments on their farms. A breeder/seed merchant will be included to assess the case study potential as well as a miller, who is mainly working on durum wheat processing.
The case study will be supported directly by FIRAB and CREA researchers, sharing joint responsibilities in the case study, already in a close relationship with the farmers and partially a part of the ‘Sulla Club’.

Solution investigated
Leguminous crops are crucial in rotations, but few offer valid economic returns. Sulla is, thus, considered for its potential, and the case study aims at its agronomic and economic assessment.
Rotation with sulla is not an usual practice in Sicily; pioneers had introduced it to diversify both the cropping system and farm income, also considering its biogas potential.

Expected outcome
Expectations are related to the identification of suitable cropping systems vis-à-vis the given agro-climatic conditions and to build coherent and subsequent supply chains to benefit from the diversification added value (including its symbolic and marketing perspective).

Relevance to the DiverIMPACTS goals
The DiverIMPACTS case study might accelerate the process, attracting more interest from both organic and conventional farmers, who are willing to go beyond usual cereal-leguminous rotations.

Contact

  • Luca Colombo, FIRAB, Case study leader
  • Giovanni Daraguccione, Case study monitor