Root-oriented cover crops [Italy]

Cover-crop ad alta capacità produttiva di radici

technologies_1291 - Italy

Completeness: 73%

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)

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:

Cover crops with high root root growth capacity as a practice to improve soil quality

2.2 Detailed description of the Technology


Cover crops will be selected by their capacity to address biomass production towards below-ground tissues. Growing alternative seasonal cover crops between annual crops have the potential to provide multiple benefits in a cropping system.

Purpose of the Technology: Highly developed rooting system will favour the soil quality: from an agronomic point of view, the soil will benefit from natural decompaction and structuring (especially if associated with no-till techniques) due to roots effect. Moreover, root-derived carbon is retained in the soils much more efficiently than are above-ground inputs (e.g. straw, crop residues). As a result, high and deep root productions will increase the more recalcitrant soil organic carbon (SOC) content as well as improve the nutrient cycle. From an environmental point of view, the increase of SOC content due to high root production will favour carbon sequestration within the soil profile and in turn mitigate GHG emisisons.

Establishment / maintenance activities and inputs: Following the critera that has already been adopted in the Veneto region for the continuos soil cover on croplands, the application of root-oriented cover crops will involve the alternation of autumn-winter cereals, rapeseed or other herbaceous crops with maize, soybean, sorghum etc. Cover crops that will be sown after the main culture will not be neither fertilized nor treated with pesticides during growing, while at the end of the crop cycle they will be buried as green manure in order to improve SOC, nutrient cycle and finally soil fertility.

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:

Research trial in Veneto region


The technology is not implemented yet in the field and will be proposed as a new technology to be tested.

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:
  • during experiments/ research
Comments (type of project, etc.):

Innovation in cover crop has been recently carried out through field experiments.

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 - maize
  • cereals - other
  • cereals - sorghum
  • legumes and pulses - soya
  • medicinal/ aromatic/ pesticidal plants and herbs
  • 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 SeptemberSecond longest growing period in days: 180


Autumn-winter cereals, rapeseed or other herbaceous crops with maize, soybean, sorghum etc

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

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
vegetative measures

vegetative measures


Main measures: agronomic measures

Type of agronomic measures: better crop cover, 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)
physical soil deterioration

physical soil deterioration

  • Pc: compaction
biological degradation

biological degradation

  • Bc: reduction of vegetation cover

Main type of degradation addressed: Cn: fertility decline and reduced organic matter content, Pc: compaction, Bc: reduction of vegetation cover

Secondary types of degradation addressed: Wt: loss of topsoil / surface erosion

Main causes of degradation: soil management, crop management (annual, perennial, tree/shrub), population pressure

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):

Comparison between a traditional cover crop and a selected root-oriented cover crop

Technical knowledge required for field staff / advisors: moderate (in proposing cover crops that are adapted to agro-ckimatic conditions)

Technical knowledge required for land users: low (no further expertise is needed for implementation)

Main technical functions: improvement of ground cover, improvement of surface structure (crusting, sealing), improvement of topsoil structure (compaction), improvement of subsoil structure (hardpan), increase in organic matter

Better crop cover
Material/ species: rafanus, sudangrass, cowpea, sunn hemp

Green manure
Material/ species: rafanus, sudangrass, cowpea, sunn hemp


Nicola Dal Ferro

4.2 General information regarding the calculation of inputs and costs

other/ national currency (specify):

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. 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. Main crop: 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 Chopping cover crop ha 1.0 343.0 343.0 75.0
Equipment Seedbed preparation main crop ha 1.0 191.0 191.0 75.0
Equipment Harrowing main crop ha 1.0 63.0 63.0 75.0
Equipment Weed control main crop ha 1.0 44.5 44.5 75.0
Equipment Harvesting main crop ha 1.0 152.0 152.0 75.0
Equipment Sowing main crop: ha 1.0 121.0 121.0 75.0
Plant material Seeds main crop ha 1.0 191.0 191.0 75.0
Plant material Seeds cover crop ha 1.0 191.0 191.0 75.0
Fertilizers and biocides Biocides ha 1.0 125.0 125.0 75.0
Fertilizers and biocides Fertilizer ha 1.0 254.0 254.0 81.0
Total costs for maintenance of the Technology 1675.5
Total costs for maintenance of the Technology in USD 1861.67

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.

This technoilogy is hypothesized as an innovative application to improve the soil strructure, reduce its compaction as well as increase the SOC content. As a result, costs for maintenance and subsides were estimated on the basis of previous experiences in cover crop management. Therefore they are only hypothetical and do not correspond to a real situation.

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):
  • medium (loamy, silty)
Topsoil organic matter:
  • medium (1-3%)
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
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

5.5 Biodiversity

Species diversity:
  • medium

5.6 Characteristics of land users applying the Technology

Market orientation of production system:
  • commercial/ market
Level of mechanization:
  • mechanized/ motorized
Indicate other relevant characteristics of the land users:

Population density: 200-500 persons/km2
Annual population growth: 0.5% - 1%

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

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

Land ownership:
  • state
  • individual, not titled
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

conflict mitigation


Improved livelihoods and human well-being


Ecological impacts

Water cycle/ runoff

water quality


soil cover


soil loss


soil compaction


nutrient cycling/ recharge

Biodiversity: vegetation, animals

biomass/ above ground C

Climate and disaster risk reduction

emission of carbon and greenhouse gases


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

6.5 Adoption of the Technology


There is a little trend towards spontaneous adoption of the Technology

Comments on adoption trend: The technology is not yet applied, but only proposed. However stakeholders showed interest in the technology for a future adoption of the technology.

6.7 Strengths/ advantages/ opportunities of the Technology

Strengths/ advantages/ opportunities in the land user’s view
Allows natural control of weeds

How can they be sustained / enhanced? Higher seeding rate
Naturally prevent compaction
Strengths/ advantages/ opportunities in the compiler’s or other key resource person’s view
Improves soil structure

How can they be sustained / enhanced? Selection of root-oriented species
Improves soil fertilty, biodiversity and organic matter content

How can they be sustained / enhanced? Selection of species with low root decomposition rate
Improves knowledge on soil cover benefits and agroecology

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

How can they be sustained / enhanced? Maintenance of cover crop

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?
High costs of field management (sowing, purchase of seeds) Subsidies
Weaknesses/ disadvantages/ risks in the compiler’s or other key resource person’s view How can they be overcome?
Increases the competition for water resources during dry seasons

7. References and links

7.1 Methods/ sources of information

7.2 References to available publications

Title, author, year, ISBN:

USDA, Plant guide - SUNN HEMPUSDA, Plant guide - SORGHUMUSDA, Plant guide - OILSEED RADISH

Available from where? Costs?

Links and modules

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