The Italian Agriculture and Climatic Changes

Classifying the agricultural potential of the national territory on a climatic and pedological base

Luigi Perini
Central Office for Crop Ecology (UCEA)

The research sets out to analyse the variables and interrelationships that exist in the complex of the plant-soil-climate system in an interdisciplinary manner, and to define the cause-effect relationships that regulate crop diffusion and the capacity of diffusion. The salient aspect of the research is in making various specialist competencies converge, comparing the results of the pedo-climatic calculations with that of the agro-phenological models. In this way, the responses of the environmental conditions to the introduction of predefined crops will be verified.

The results of the research will be chiefly recorded in a graphic form to create thematic maps at a scale of the greatest detail, and to create the first “Agro-pedo-climatic atlas of Italy” (on CD-Rom).

Through the aid of the computer, we will try to make a dynamic interaction possible with the database, which will modify, for example, one or more environmental (or cropping) variables to simulate the effects of one climatic variation on a certain crop system. Alternatively, we will verify the behavioural response of the land to the introduction of a new species or variety.

The dispersion of various sources of information, as well as the lack of homogeneity of criteria in archiving the database, should necessarily be the primary obstacle to overcome. Once the temporal aggregation is defined as well as the optimal spatial resolution, an agro-pedo-climatological data bank will be created, organized by elementary territory unities. The database will be used for the mapping of the national territory in relation to the climatic and pedological aspects that influence agrarian production. The objective will therefore be to create the “agro-pedo-climatic atlas of the Italian territory.” To this end, we will take into consideration the principle herbaceous (wheat and related cereals, maize, tomato, potato, legumes) and arboreal (drupaceous, pomaceous, vine, olive) crops.

Comparing the results of the pedoclimatic calculations with that of the phenological models, it will be possible to verify the response to our environment of the classification of the water and thermic system of the soils. Eventually, it will be possible to propose a new pedoclimatic classification that will be better adapted to Italian conditions. The main objectives to achieve are:
  • To calibrate and validate computerized models for the pedoclimatic classification and the definition of pedoclimate as a soil quality;
  • To identify areas at risk of drought and pollution with the current crop management;
  • To create an instrument, using appropriately defined modelling from research; that is, an instrument that is useful in the dynamic management of data acquired for the interactive mapping of cultivable areas on an acquired database or on changing one or more variables to point out consequent scenarios for possible changes in the current environmental conditions. In so doing, we will also be able to obtain a mapping of the territory at the user's request, to take into account any kind of crop of which we know the pedo-climatic need, to insert in the input.


All the information and useful databases for research will be acquired. In particular, the inputs will come from the National Agrometeorological Data Bank; data banks of the SAM (The Agro-Meteorological system) model and the PHENAGRI project; and pedological databases (currently used in various other research projects for the constitution of pedological data banks), which include climatic, pedological and phonological databases. From analysing these databases, it will be possible to define the level of spatio-temporal aggregation necessary to significantly define the environmental characteristics under study and therefore to identify the elementary territorial unity according to the greatest detail possible.

There will also be choices of models to use for the pheno-climatic and pedo-climatic simulations and spatialization of data. The observed data during the cropping seasons for the validation of the pedoclimatic data will be acquired as available.

There will be numerical models tested and calibrated, integrating, where necessary, the databases or the same simulational algorhythms. The first thematic map will be produced that together will form an agrometeo-pheno-pedological atlas of Italy. The procedure for the automation of the interactive interrogative processes, and the selection and the mapping of the collected databases will be defined.

The final product will be developed, consisting of all basic data, the graphic calculations of the interactive interrogative system, the selection and the mapping. All of this will be implemented by appropriate computer support (such as a CD-Rom) characterized by accurate reliability, simple usage and maximum dissemination for potential users.

  • To acquire the databases (pedology-climate-phenology) dispersed in different sources of information (resolving the problems of lack of homogeneity of the archiving).
  • To define the temporal aggregation and the optimal spatial resolution.
  • To establish the crop (single species and/or homogeneous groups) to take into consideration.
  • To identify the models for pheno-climatic simulation.
  • To verify the response of the Italian environment to the classification of the water and thermal systems of the soils.

The research will attempt to analyse, in an inter-disciplinary way, the variables and the existing interrelationships in the plant-soil-climate system, in order to define the cause-effect connection that regulates the diffusion and spreading of crops. The key aspect of the research is to have various experts come together, comparing the results of the pedo-climatic processing with those of the agro-phenological models. In this way, we will be able to verify the responses of the environmental conditions that are established from the introduction of the pre-defined crops.

The results of the research will mainly be published in a graphic form to design a thematic map to a scale with the greatest detail and will actually create the first “agro-pedo-climatic atlas of Italy” (on CD-Rom).

Through help of the computer, it will also be possible to interact dynamically with the databases by modifying, for example, one or more environmental (or cropping) variables to simulate the effects of a climatic variation on a certain cropping system or, as opposite , to verify the suitability response of the land to the introduction of a new species or variety.

We will attempt, however, to produce an easy-to-use instrument, which is fully compatible with the most widespread standard hardware and software and, above all, which does not require particular competence on the part of the user, such as the use of a GIS (Geographic Information System).

The research results will fundamentally serve to widen knowledge of the interconnections of climate, soil and crops. The applications that can be derived from such knowledge will be directly relevant to agricultural activity guiding choices of crops and techniques that are most suitable with local climate/soil, or for example, quantifying the possible climatic risks ascribable to the occurrence of particular, extreme events (freezing, periods of drought, etc.).

One may hypothesize on the kind of usage, principally at the most enlarged regional and national scale, of an instrument for supporting the planning and coordination policies in the agricultural sector. In this latter case, for example, there will be the possibility of:
  • estimating the agricultural potential of the territory;
  • to objectively judge the validity of the request for intervention to the benefit of determined crops.
  • objectively judging the priorities of public intervention in the agricultural sector;
  • evaluating the possibility and the advantages of extending irrigation;
  • establishing alternative land uses with substantial knowledge.

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