Continuous soil cover on croplands [Italy]

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technologies_1217 - Italy

Completeness: 78%

1. General information

1.2 Contact details of resource persons and institutions involved in the assessment and documentation of the Technology

Key resource person(s)

SLM specialist:
SLM specialist:

Morari Francesco

University of Padova


Name of project which facilitated the documentation/ evaluation of the Technology (if relevant)
Preventing and Remediating degradation of soils in Europe through Land Care (EU-RECARE )
Name of the institution(s) which facilitated the documentation/ evaluation of the Technology (if relevant)
University of Padova (UNIPD) - Italy

1.3 Conditions regarding the use of data documented through WOCAT

The compiler and key resource person(s) accept the conditions regarding the use of data documented through WOCAT:


1.5 Reference to Questionnaire(s) on SLM Approaches (documented using WOCAT)

2. Description of the SLM Technology

2.1 Short description of the Technology

Definition of the Technology:

Maintenance of continuous soil cover; alternating crops and cover crops as a practice to improve soil quality and reduce diffuse agricultural water pollution

2.2 Detailed description of the Technology


Continuous soil cover on croplands in the Veneto region is characterised by growing seasonal cover crops alternated to the main crop. Continuous cover cropping has been promoted as an agri-environmental measure of the Rural Development Programme (RDP) by Veneto region to extend sustainable land management and reduce diffuse water pollution. Indeed cover crops incorporate available inorganic N that remains within the soil after harvest and reduce water erosion. The type of crop species depends on the crop succession.

Purpose of the Technology: Cover crops have been proposed to the farmers with the aim of reducing environmental impacts of traditional agricultural practices. Compared with systems that does not use cover crops, the continuous soil cover provides long-term agronomical and environmental benefits due to a reduction of negative impacts on agro-ecosystems.

Establishment / maintenance activities and inputs: The application of cover crops involves the alternation of autumn-winter cereals, rapeseed or other herbaceous crops with maize, soybean, sorghum etc. Cover crops that are sown after the main culture are neither fertilized nor treated with pesticides during growing, while at the end of the crop cycle they are buried as green manure in order to improve soil organic matter content, nutrient cycle and finally soil fertility.

Natural / human environment: Growing seasonal cover crops between annual crops have the potential to provide multiple benefits in a cropping system. Cover crops prevent water erosion and pollution as well as increase soil physical properties. Due to the effect of green manure and root growth, cover crops supply nutrients and increase soil organic matter content. They improve soil biodiversity and break pest cycles.

2.3 Photos of the Technology

2.5 Country/ region/ locations where the Technology has been applied and which are covered by this assessment



Region/ State/ Province:


Further specification of location:

Low Venetian plain of Veneto region

Specify the spread of the Technology:
  • evenly spread over an area
If precise area is not known, indicate approximate area covered:
  • 10-100 km2

2.6 Date of implementation

If precise year is not known, indicate approximate date:
  • less than 10 years ago (recently)

2.7 Introduction of the Technology

Specify how the Technology was introduced:
  • through projects/ external interventions

3. Classification of the SLM Technology

3.2 Current land use type(s) where the Technology is applied



  • Annual cropping
Annual cropping - Specify crops:
  • cereals - barley
  • cereals - rye
  • cereals - sorghum
  • legumes and pulses - beans
  • legumes and pulses - peas
  • Vetch (Fabacae)
Number of growing seasons per year:
  • 1

Longest growing period in days: 210 Longest growing period from month to month: March to SeptemberSecond longest growing period in days: 180


Main crops : e.g. barley and vetch, ryegrass, sorghum

Major land use problems (compiler’s opinion): Soils in the low Venetian plain of the Veneto region generally suffer from a loss of soil organic matter (SOM) that is strongly affected by their natural texture and climatic conditions. Moreover, in the last 50 years intensive tillage practices contributed to a further SOM decrease, estimated at 0.02-0.58 t/ha/y of carbon. Finally, high intensive agriculture practices increased nonpoint source pollution and in turn caused a decline of surface and groundwater quality.

Major land use problems (land users’ perception): To date, few farmers have adopted voluntarily the continuous soil cover to reduce a decline of soil fertility and water quality, symptom of poor perception of the problem. Adoption of SLT by farmers was sustained only by means of regional subsidies.

3.4 Water supply

Water supply for the land on which the Technology is applied:
  • mixed rainfed-irrigated

Water supply: Also rainfed, full irrigation

3.5 SLM group to which the Technology belongs

  • improved ground/ vegetation cover

3.6 SLM measures comprising the Technology

agronomic measures

agronomic measures

  • A1: Vegetation/ soil cover

Main measures: agronomic measures

Type of agronomic measures: cover cropping, green manure

3.7 Main types of land degradation addressed by the Technology

soil erosion by water

soil erosion by water

  • Wt: loss of topsoil/ surface erosion
chemical soil deterioration

chemical soil deterioration

  • Cn: fertility decline and reduced organic matter content (not caused by erosion)
biological degradation

biological degradation

  • Bc: reduction of vegetation cover
  • Bp: increase of pests/ diseases, loss of predators
water degradation

water degradation

  • Hp: decline of surface water quality

Main type of degradation addressed: Wt: loss of topsoil / surface erosion, Cn: fertility decline and reduced organic matter content, Bc: reduction of vegetation cover, Hp: decline of surface water quality

Secondary types of degradation addressed: Bp: increase of pests / diseases, loss of predators

Main causes of degradation: soil management (lack of organic input with fertilizations), population pressure (high population density and competition for land)

Secondary causes of degradation: crop management (annual, perennial, tree/shrub) (crop monoculture instead of crop rotation)

3.8 Prevention, reduction, or restoration of land degradation

Specify the goal of the Technology with regard to land degradation:
  • prevent land degradation
  • reduce land degradation

Main goals: mitigation / reduction of land degradation

Secondary goals: prevention of land degradation

4. Technical specifications, implementation activities, inputs, and costs

4.1 Technical drawing of the Technology

Technical specifications (related to technical drawing):

Continuous soil cover is here carried out with direct sowing of ryegrass on a sorghum field. Sorghum was in turn used as cover crop after harvesting of winter wheat.

Location: Low Venetian plain of Veneto region

Technical knowledge required for field staff / advisors: moderate

Technical knowledge required for land users: low

Main technical functions: control of raindrop splash, improvement of ground cover, increase of surface roughness, improvement of water quality, buffering / filtering water

Secondary technical functions: control of dispersed runoff: impede / retard, improvement of surface structure (crusting, sealing), increase in organic matter, increase in nutrient availability (supply, recycling,…), sediment retention / trapping, sediment harvesting

Cover cropping
Material/ species: e.g. barley and vetch, ryegrass, sorghum
Quantity/ density: 35 kg/ha

Green manure
Material/ species: e.g. sudan grass
Quantity/ density: 1.5-6 t/ha
Remarks: Strongly dependant on: 1) type of cover crop; 2) differentiation between summer and winter c.c.


Nicola Dal Ferro

4.2 General information regarding the calculation of inputs and costs

other/ national currency (specify):

Euro €

If relevant, indicate exchange rate from USD to local currency (e.g. 1 USD = 79.9 Brazilian Real): 1 USD =:


Indicate average wage cost of hired labour per day:


4.3 Establishment activities


No initial investment needed

4.5 Maintenance/ recurrent activities

Activity Timing/ frequency
1. Cover crops: chopping
2. Main crop: seedbed preparation
3. Main crop: harrowing
4. Main crop: weed control
5. Main crop: fertilisation
6. Main crop: harvesting
7. Cover crops: sowing

4.6 Costs and inputs needed for maintenance/ recurrent activities (per year)

Specify input Unit Quantity Costs per Unit Total costs per input % of costs borne by land users
Equipment Cover crop chopping ha 1.0 343.0 343.0
Equipment Main crop: seedbed preparation ha 1.0 191.0 191.0
Equipment Main crop: harrowing ha 1.0 63.0 63.0
Equipment Main crop: weed control ha 1.0 44.5 44.5
Equipment Main crop: harvesting ha 1.0 152.0 152.0
Equipment Cover crops: sowing ha 1.0 121.0 121.0
Plant material Seeds main crop ha 1.0 190.5 190.5
Plant material Seeds cover crop ha 1.0 191.0 191.0
Fertilizers and biocides Main crop: fertilisation (fertilizer) ha 1.0 254.0 254.0
Fertilizers and biocides Main crop: weed control (biocides) ha 1.0 125.0 125.0
Total costs for maintenance of the Technology 1675.0
Total costs for maintenance of the Technology in USD 2093.75

4.7 Most important factors affecting the costs

Describe the most determinate factors affecting the costs:

Although machinery costs are the largest part of total ones, they are almost completely the same for systems adopting - or non adopting - the technology. As a result, additional seeds as cover crop and field labour for sowing are the main costs for implementation of the technology.

5. Natural and human environment

5.1 Climate

Annual rainfall
  • < 250 mm
  • 251-500 mm
  • 501-750 mm
  • 751-1,000 mm
  • 1,001-1,500 mm
  • 1,501-2,000 mm
  • 2,001-3,000 mm
  • 3,001-4,000 mm
  • > 4,000 mm
Agro-climatic zone
  • sub-humid

Thermal climate class: temperate

5.2 Topography

Slopes on average:
  • flat (0-2%)
  • gentle (3-5%)
  • moderate (6-10%)
  • rolling (11-15%)
  • hilly (16-30%)
  • steep (31-60%)
  • very steep (>60%)
  • plateau/plains
  • ridges
  • mountain slopes
  • hill slopes
  • footslopes
  • valley floors
Altitudinal zone:
  • 0-100 m a.s.l.
  • 101-500 m a.s.l.
  • 501-1,000 m a.s.l.
  • 1,001-1,500 m a.s.l.
  • 1,501-2,000 m a.s.l.
  • 2,001-2,500 m a.s.l.
  • 2,501-3,000 m a.s.l.
  • 3,001-4,000 m a.s.l.
  • > 4,000 m a.s.l.

5.3 Soils

Soil depth on average:
  • very shallow (0-20 cm)
  • shallow (21-50 cm)
  • moderately deep (51-80 cm)
  • deep (81-120 cm)
  • very deep (> 120 cm)
Soil texture (topsoil):
  • coarse/ light (sandy)
  • medium (loamy, silty)
Topsoil organic matter:
  • medium (1-3%)
  • low (<1%)
If available, attach full soil description or specify the available information, e.g. soil type, soil PH/ acidity, Cation Exchange Capacity, nitrogen, salinity etc.

Soil fertility is low-medium
Soil drainage/infiltration is medium
Soil water storage capacity is medium

5.4 Water availability and quality

Ground water table:

< 5 m

Availability of surface water:


Water quality (untreated):

good drinking water

Comments and further specifications on water quality and quantity:

Ground water table: <5m (The area surrounding the Venice lagoon (1240 km2) is even below the sea level (down to -2 m) and currently cultivated due to land reclamation. As a result water table is kept artificially low)
Water quality (untreated) is good drinking water (groundwater) or for agricultural use only (surface water)

5.5 Biodiversity

Species diversity:
  • medium
Comments and further specifications on biodiversity:

High population density, infrastructures and intensive agriculture practices affect the state of biodiversity.

5.6 Characteristics of land users applying the Technology

Market orientation of production system:
  • commercial/ market
Off-farm income:
  • less than 10% of all income
Relative level of wealth:
  • average
  • rich
Individuals or groups:
  • individual/ household
Level of mechanization:
  • mechanized/ motorized
Indicate other relevant characteristics of the land users:

Land users applying the Technology are mainly common / average land users

Population density: 200-500 persons/km2

Annual population growth: 0.5% - 1%

5% of the land users are rich.
95% of the land users are average wealthy.

5.7 Average area of land used by land users applying the Technology

  • < 0.5 ha
  • 0.5-1 ha
  • 1-2 ha
  • 2-5 ha
  • 5-15 ha
  • 15-50 ha
  • 50-100 ha
  • 100-500 ha
  • 500-1,000 ha
  • 1,000-10,000 ha
  • > 10,000 ha
Is this considered small-, medium- or large-scale (referring to local context)?
  • medium-scale

5.8 Land ownership, land use rights, and water use rights

Land use rights:
  • leased
  • individual

5.9 Access to services and infrastructure

  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
technical assistance:
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
employment (e.g. off-farm):
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
roads and transport:
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
drinking water and sanitation:
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
financial services:
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good

6. Impacts and concluding statements

6.1 On-site impacts the Technology has shown

Socio-economic impacts


crop production

Water availability and quality

drinking water availability


irrigation water availability


irrigation water quality

Income and costs



Socio-cultural impacts

national institutions


SLM/ land degradation knowledge


Improved livelihoods and human well-being


Ecological impacts

Water cycle/ runoff

water quality


surface runoff


soil cover


soil loss


nutrient cycling/ recharge


soil organic matter/ below ground C

Biodiversity: vegetation, animals

biomass/ above ground C


pest/ disease control


6.2 Off-site impacts the Technology has shown

downstream flooding


groundwater/ river pollution


buffering/ filtering capacity


6.3 Exposure and sensitivity of the Technology to gradual climate change and climate-related extremes/ disasters (as perceived by land users)

Gradual climate change

Gradual climate change
Season increase or decrease How does the Technology cope with it?
annual temperature increase not known

6.4 Cost-benefit analysis

How do the benefits compare with the maintenance/ recurrent costs (from land users' perspective)?
Short-term returns:

slightly negative

Long-term returns:

slightly positive


Establishment costs N/A

6.5 Adoption of the Technology

Of all those who have adopted the Technology, how many did so spontaneously, i.e. without receiving any material incentives/ payments?
  • 0-10%

100% of land user families have adopted the Technology with external material support

6.7 Strengths/ advantages/ opportunities of the Technology

Strengths/ advantages/ opportunities in the compiler’s or other key resource person’s view
Prevents erosion

How can they be sustained / enhanced? Maintenance of cover crop
Improves soil fertilty, biodiversity, structure, organic matter content

How can they be sustained / enhanced? Usage of organic fertilizations on the main crop
Allows natural control of weeds

How can they be sustained / enhanced? Higher seeding rate
Improves knowledge on soil cover benefits and agroecology

How can they be sustained / enhanced? Improve farmers' education

6.8 Weaknesses/ disadvantages/ risks of the Technology and ways of overcoming them

Weaknesses/ disadvantages/ risks in the land user’s view How can they be overcome?
Increase costs of input and management Increase awareness on long-term soil benefits and keep subsidies
In summer seasons increases the competition for water resources improve planning and knowledge of suitable species

7. References and links

7.1 Methods/ sources of information

7.2 References to available publications

Title, author, year, ISBN:

Programma di sviluppo rurale per il veneto 2007-2013, Regione Veneto, 2007. Dipartimento Agricoltura e Sviluppo Rurale.

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