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EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) Network
News article7 December 2022

Inspirational idea: New machinery for soil health in arable crop production

Mitigating the degradation of farming soils through conservation organic agriculture techniques and technologies

This inspirational idea is also available in a Slovak version. Translation courtesy of the National Rural Network Slovakia. Read more EIP-AGRI inspirational ideas in Slovak on the NRN website.

Faced with new climate scenarios, Italian Operational Group AGRIBIOCONS is experimenting with techniques which support soil health in arable crop production for chicken feed. This project aims to preserve and improve physicochemical and microbiological properties of soils by testing soil conservation and improvement tillage and cultivation methods in an organic farming system, introducing innovative machinery for organic seeding and cover crops.

In the area of Marche (central Italy), agricultural soils are subject to significant erosion due to both the geomorphological characteristics of the territory, the climatic conditions and inadequate management of the lands that reduces soil organic matter. This had progressively reduced  the thickness of the soils as well as their physical and chemical fertility, with a negative impact on biodiversity and crop yields.

The AGRIBIOCONS project aims to mitigate the degradation of Marche soils, through the transfer and adaptation of conservation organic agriculture techniques and technologies. The project is developing an organic farming production model for the main cultivation systems of the region, particularly the most common arable crops grown for feeding chickens, such as soft wheat, field beans and protein pea. “The aim is ultimately to increase in the competitiveness of organic farms whilst preserving the soil and improving its physical, chemical and biological fertility.” Says Francesca Carbonari from ARCA, one of the project partners.

The model being applied is respectful of the soil’s conservation and of biodiversity and can adapt to new climatic conditions. As well as introducing new tillage techniques and innovative machinery, the model is assisted by technological instruments such as sensors and IT applications, allowing accurate monitoring of soil fertility and crop productivity indicators.

The soil conservation management system is based on four key principles: crop rotation efficiency; including cover crops; intercropping, and; minimum tillage without turning the soil.

New machinery for soil health in arable crop production

The project is led by Società Agricola Biologica Fileni, a farm that produces and sells organic chicken. It has teamed up with ARCA, a consultancy firm in organic conservation farming, a university, an automatic measurement and control systems company, another agricultural company and other external experts.

The project involves farmers throughout in a participatory approach: “Francesca “Farmers have been involved in each step of project implementation, considering everyone’s specific production requirements and environmental conditions”

In 2020 the partners began with the technical implementation of the model. They worked together on the technical design and assembly of a prototype for a soil erosion measuring device. Francesca explains “A total of 6 sensors were produced and installed in the field in 2020. The devices are used to measure and compare various factors that could lead to higher risk of soil erosion, such as the (lack of) soil moisture and temperature (contributing to evapotranspiration)”.

The demonstration fields were set up in collaboration with organic farmers in the Marche region in different geomorphological situations, some are irrigated, some not. Since 2020, they have been applying specific rotations and organic-conservation practices within the model drawn up by the project. These systems are either zero or minimum tillage, they include use of cover-crops and intercropping.

Specific equipment suitable for conservative soil management has been employed, specifically multifunctional passive machines not driven by power take-off.

The impact of the different managements on farms is monitored through the use of digital technology assessing the effects on soil, agronomic aspects and management techniques.

After 3 years of the project, Francesca presents the results so far “Comparable production yields and production costs between the traditional organic farming and conservative organic farming, and also environmental benefits such as the reduction of soil erosion thanks to the use of cover crops. The next step will be focused on the improvement of the cover crops management, of specific equipment and better crop rotation strategy.”

The results achieved within the project will be disseminated through different channels, a number of conferences and farm demonstrations have already been organised by the project partners. Guidelines will be published for the application and dissemination of the innovative techniques of Organic-Conservation Agriculture.

Article content

Agrobiocons website

Project information

Alessandro Tramontano

More information:

Photos: Simone Tiberi and Leonardo Tobia, Arca.


Publication date
7 December 2022
Innovation, knowledge exchange & EIP-AGRI