Conservation agriculture [Italy]

Agricoltura conservativa

technologies_1225 - Italy

Completeness: 76%

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:
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SLM specialist:

Morari Francesco

University of Padova


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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)

Carbon farming

Carbon farming [Italy]

Managing land, water, plants and animals to meet the landscape restoration, climate change and food security.

  • Compiler: Nicola Dal Ferro

2. Description of the SLM Technology

2.1 Short description of the Technology

Definition of the Technology:

Sustainable crop production and residue management under no-tillage to improve soil fertility and increase environmental benefits

2.2 Detailed description of the Technology


Conservation agriculture (CA) in the Veneto region is characterised by management systems including no-tillage, permanent soil cover and crop rotation. CA has been promoted as an agri-environmental measure of the Rural Development Programme (RDP) by the Veneto region to extend sustainable land management. In spite of being provided by the regional government with subsidies, so far the adoption of CA by the farmers has been very limited since its introduction, amounting less than 1% (ca. 2000 ha) of the total regional cropland area (mainly concentrated in the low Venetian plain).

Purpose of the Technology: CA has been proposed to the farmers with the aim of reducing environmental impacts as well as economic and energetic inputs to the agricultural system. Compared with conventional practices such as soil ploughing, CA is convenient due to the saving of labour and fuel costs, with a direct effect in reducing CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. Limiting the soil disturbance and guaranteeing the continuous soil cover involve both a reduction of water runoff and surface erosion and an increase of soil biodiversity and fertility.

Establishment / maintenance activities and inputs: The main winter crops usually cultivated in the low Venetian plain are wheat, rapeseed and barley, while summer season crops are maize, soybean, sorghum. Generally CA consists of direct sowing on untilled soil using a double-disk opener planter for seed deposition, while after harvesting crop residues are chopped and dispersed to the surface in order to guarantee a mulching effect and a rapid incorporation into the soil. Since application of CA practices consider the permanent soil cover, the main crop is followed by cover crops that are usually graminaceae or brassicaceae. Cover crops are neither fertilized nor treated with pesticides during growing, while their final devitalisation is achieved with non-specific herbicides (e.g. Glyphosate, Glufosinate Ammonium).

Natural / human environment: Advantages of adopting conservation agriculture have been widely demonstrated worldwide and can be classified in economic, agronomic and environmental benefits. From an environmental point of view, the soil system preserves its structure and biodiversity thanks to minimum soil disturbance to the root zone, microorganisms, fungi and macroinvertebrates. Greenhouse gas emissions under conservation agriculture compared to traditional cultivation systems are lower and might offset the gains obtained to mitigate global warming. Due to the recent introduction of the technology in the Veneto region (since mid-2000s), conservation agriculture has shown contrasting results in terms of crop yield since still in a transition period between conventional and conservation agriculture practices.

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:
  • 10-50 years ago

2.7 Introduction of the Technology

Specify how the Technology was introduced:
  • during experiments/ research

3. Classification of the SLM Technology

3.1 Main purpose(s) of the Technology

  • reduce, prevent, restore land degradation

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



  • Annual cropping
Annual cropping - Specify crops:
  • cereals - barley
  • cereals - maize
  • cereals - sorghum
  • cereals - wheat (winter)
  • legumes and pulses - soya
  • oilseed crops - sunflower, rapeseed, other
Number of growing seasons per year:
  • 1

Longest growing period in days: 210 Longest growing period from month to month: March to OctoberSecond longest growing period in days: 180Second longest growing period from month to month: April to September


The main winter crops usually cultivated in the low Venetian plain are wheat, rapeseed and barley, while summer season crops are maize, soybean, 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.

Major land use problems (land users’ perception): Decrease of productivity, soil compaction. To date, few farmers have adopted voluntarily conservation practices to reduce a decline of soil fertility and SOM content, symptom of poor perception of the problem. Moreover, the low technical know-how causes low yield performances and discouraged farmers to adopt the SLM technology.

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
  • minimal soil disturbance

3.6 SLM measures comprising the Technology

agronomic measures

agronomic measures

  • A1: Vegetation/ soil cover
  • A3: Soil surface treatment
management measures

management measures

  • M2: Change of management/ intensity level

Main measures: agronomic measures

Secondary measures: management measures

Type of agronomic measures: cover cropping, mulching, zero tillage / no-till

3.7 Main types of land degradation addressed by the Technology

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
  • Bl: loss of soil life

Main type of degradation addressed: Cn: fertility decline and reduced organic matter content, Bc: reduction of vegetation cover, Bl: loss of soil life

Main causes of degradation: soil management (lack of organic input with fertilizations), population pressure (High demand for agricultural products and competition for land in densely populated area)

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: prevention of land degradation

Secondary goals: mitigation / reduction of land degradation

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

4.1 Technical drawing of the Technology

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Technical specifications (related to technical drawing):

Detailed view of direct sowing on untilled soil and chopping of crop residues

Location: Low Venetian plain of Veneto region

Technical knowledge required for field staff / advisors: high

Technical knowledge required for land users: moderate

Main technical functions: control of raindrop splash, control of dispersed runoff: impede / retard, improvement of ground cover, improvement of topsoil structure (compaction), increase in organic matter

Secondary technical functions: control of concentrated runoff: impede / retard, increase of surface roughness, increase of infiltration, increase / maintain water stored in soil

Cover cropping
Material/ species: e.g. barley and vetch, lolium, sorghum

Material/ species: Residues depending on the main crop

Change of land use practices / intensity level: With conservation agriculture labour is saved and fuel cost lowered. Additional application of pesticides represents an extra expenditure.


Luigi Sartori

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:


4.5 Maintenance/ recurrent activities

Activity Timing/ frequency
1. Weed control and cover crops devitalisation each crop season
2. Main crop: direct sowing on untilled soil each crop season
3. Main crop: fertilisation each crop season
4. Main crop: combined harvesting and chopping of straw each crop season
5. Cover crops: sowing each crop season

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
Labour Weed control and cover crops devitalisation L/ha 1.0 130.0 130.0
Labour Cover crops: sowing ha 1.0 254.0 254.0
Equipment Weed control and cover crops devitalisation ha 1.0 44.5 44.5
Equipment Main crop: direct sowing on untilled soil ha 1.0 63.5 63.5
Equipment Main crop: combined harvesting and chopping of straw ha 1.0 190.5 190.5
Plant material Seeds ha 1.0 190.5 190.5
Fertilizers and biocides Fertilisation ha 1.0 287.0 287.0
Total costs for maintenance of the Technology 1160.0
Total costs for maintenance of the Technology in USD 1450.0

4.7 Most important factors affecting the costs

Describe the most determinate factors affecting the costs:

Costs are mostly affected by field labours, although they are considerably lower than under conventional tillage practices. They do not include initial investments since usually farmers to rely on agricultural contractors. As a result, intial investements are borne by agricultural contractors (e.g. sod seeding machinery, which costs 35000$, on average).

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
Specify average annual rainfall (if known), in mm:


Specifications/ comments on rainfall:

Max in June (100 mm) and minima in winter (55 mm, December to February)

Agro-climatic zone
  • sub-humid

Thermal climate class: temperate (the low Venetian plain where the technology is applied has continental climate)

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.
Comments and further specifications on topography:

Altitudinal zone: 0-100 m a.s.l. (the low Venetian does not exceed 50 m above sea level)

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 (irrigation: Surface water can be used for agricultural purposes but not as drinking 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
  • men
Indicate other relevant characteristics of the land users:

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

Difference in the involvement of women and men: Farmers in the Veneto region are traditionally males due to historical and cultural reasons.

Population density: 200-500 persons/km2

Annual population growth: 0.5% - 1%

Off-farm income specification: The conservation measure is applied by farmers whose main income is from agriculture activity.

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)?
  • large-scale

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

Land ownership:
  • individual, not titled
Land use rights:
  • leased
  • individual
Water use rights:
  • communal (organized)
  • leased

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

Comments/ specify:

In the early years

Income and costs

expenses on agricultural inputs




Socio-cultural impacts

SLM/ land degradation knowledge


Improved livelihoods and human well-being


Ecological impacts

Water cycle/ runoff

surface runoff


excess water drainage




soil cover


soil loss


soil crusting/ sealing


soil compaction

Biodiversity: vegetation, animals

habitat diversity


pest/ disease control

Comments/ specify:

Increased reliance on herbicides

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 well

Climate-related extremes (disasters)

Meteorological disasters
How does the Technology cope with it?
local rainstorm well

Other climate-related consequences

Other climate-related consequences
How does the Technology cope with it?
reduced growing period well

6.4 Cost-benefit analysis

How do the benefits compare with the establishment costs (from land users’ perspective)?
Short-term returns:


Long-term returns:

slightly positive

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

neutral/ balanced

Long-term returns:


6.5 Adoption of the Technology


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

There is a little trend towards spontaneous adoption of the Technology

6.7 Strengths/ advantages/ opportunities of the Technology

Strengths/ advantages/ opportunities in the compiler’s or other key resource person’s view
Lowers soil tillage costs due to a reduction of fuel consumption and labour

How can they be sustained / enhanced? Spread over greater areas to maximise cost reduction
Lowers CO2 emissions due to a general reduction of energy inputs

How can they be sustained / enhanced? Identification of CA as an agricultural practice to mitigate global warming. Spread over greater areas to increase effectiveness
Reduces water runoff and erosion while increasing soil coverage and biodiversity

How can they be sustained / enhanced? Further improvement of soil quality might consider organic fertilizations
Enhances in general the sustainability of cropping systems

How can they be sustained / enhanced? Maintain conservation agriculture system in the long-term to maximise benefits

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

Weaknesses/ disadvantages/ risks in the compiler’s or other key resource person’s view How can they be overcome?
Soil compaction is sometimes emerging Periodic decompaction and adoption of lighter machinery
Crop productions are sometimes lower than with conventional practices Stabilize conservation agriculture in the long-term. Support farmers in technical choices

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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