Case study 22: Italy: Cereal-vegetable systems for food quality

Cluster 5: Diversification of vegetable cropping systems

In order to respond to concerns related to income diversification and consolidation, the case study idea originated from researchers who were in constant contact with farms in the Marche and Abruzzo regions. Strip cropping was jointly identified as an evolution of usual practices carried out in the regions and as a valuable system to increase soil coverage across the year to broaden the crop range, with the aim of diversifying sales channels to increase farmers’ independence from the market effect.

What are the main problems underlying the emergence of the case study?
The case study idea originates from researchers, who are in constant yet irregular contact with farms in the Marche and Abruzzo Region territory in order to respond to concerns related to income diversification and consolidation. Minor crops and their local/short value chains are seen as a good opportunity, particularly to keep the added value at the farm level. Crop diversification is seen as instrumental to this objective. The idea was then shared with ASR and farmers, who are, in some cases, proactive in establishing contacts to become involved in research activities.

How is the problem addressed and which actors are involved?
Researchers at the Consiglio per la Ricerca e l’Analisi dell’Economia Agraria CREA launched the idea and discussed it with ASR, who granted an interest in consideration of the promising dynamics on local value chains. A number of farms, which are already growing crops, are included in the case study design and will explore innovations embedded in the case study, such as strip cropping, which is currently neglected. This responds to the requests from farmers on smart innovations.

Various technical problems as seed purchase, mechanization (particularly in hilly parcels), strip mechanization, and cultural resistance to innovation are further issues.
The direct interaction with farmers, especially during open field days and contacts with various local realities with whom researchers have continuous contacts, offered the opportunity to get familiar with the innovative cropping system proposed by the case study.

Mostly, small and medium-scale farms (organic and non-organic), millers, bakers for bakery essays, pastry makers (using chickpea flour), and possibly, small seed companies will be involved for minor crops accompanied scientifically by CREA-ORA.

Solutions investigated
Introducing intercropping and strip cropping is seen as an evolution of usual practices carried out in the region, not the least by organic farmers that represent the bulk of the co-innovators involved in the case study. Such innovative cropping systems should increase soil coverage across the year and broaden the crop range, diversifying marketing channels and options. This finally enables retention of added value at the farm level.

The 3 farmers are testing strip cropping to directly learn about the agronomic benefits of the practice and to use it to enhance the value of local crops cultivated with environmentally friendly techniques. A variety of actors and stakeholders have been identified and some of them have already been contacted by the case study team. Tourism organizations, the food sector, ethical purchasing groups and other actors of local value chains will be actively involved in the coming months. Cooperation with Consiglio per la Ricerca e l’Analisi dell’Economia Agraria (CREA), has been established since the very beginning, and is further developed through meetings.

Expected outcome
The clear entry point is farm income, but approach coherence is also pivotal with organic farms interested in developing agroecological solutions and not just carrying out input substitution. The evolution has to take new income opportunities generated by enhanced and alternative crops and marketing channels into consideration. This allows income diversification and consolidation; leading to a more active involvement of small farms in co-innovation initiatives.

The case will collect different kinds of data which will contribute to DiverIMPACTS goals and show the technical, economic and environmental benefits of sustainable practices to the involved farmers, to local communities and to other key agricultural actors will be collected. Fields days will also be organized to spread information about the pilot activities and to create and improve cooperation with the short value chain actors. Other activities such as study visit and the creation of promotional materials are currently been discussed with all involved actors, like others famers.

Relevance to the DiverIMPACTS goals
The case study will allow experiencing the contribution of crop diversification to the improvement of biodiversity and to the economic competitiveness of farmers (both organic and conventional). It will allow showing the technical, economic, and environmental advantages of the agricultural practices focused on the project while facilitating their adoption as strategies capable of having positive effects on the local communities (enhancement of short production chain, valorisation, and recovery of local varieties for the preparation of local food and products).

Contact

  • Paolo Mucci, ASR, case study leader
  • Laura Ridolfi, ASR, case study monitor

First farmer (Fratterosa, Marche region)

  • Date of sowing: 16/11/2018
  • Number of strips: 4 (2 of faba and 2 of wheat ev. p.)
  • Strip length: 85 m
  • Strip width: 7,5 m

Second farmer (Castelplanio, Marche region)

  • Date of sowing: 28/09/18 rape and 05/12/18 wheat
  • Number of strips: 4 (2 of rape/chickpea and 2 of wheat ev. p.)
  • Strip length: 280 m
  • Strip width: 6 m

Third farmer (Roseto degli Abruzzi, Abruzzo region)

  • Date of sowing: 05/11/18 wheat
  • Number of strips: 14 (8 of durum wheat and 7 of chickpea)
  • Strip length: 110 m
  • Strip width: 5 m