The Italian Agriculture and Climatic Changes

The Effect of climate modifications on the risks of freezing (winter, precocious, late) and on the cold requirements of cultivated-species

Franco Zinoni
Regional Agency for the Protection of the Environment, Regional Meteorological Service [ARPA-SMR], Bologne)

For many countries, the protection against late freezing has constituted one of the main obstacles to confront for the maintenance of production. The techniques are different, with different possibilities of use, costs, degrees of protection, and interactions with the environment. In Italy, this protection has developed mainly in the Trentino Region, using above-treetop irrigation and in limited way in Sicily, making use of ventilators.

The research of an efficient system to counter freezing was active in the 1970s, in other regions as well, with experimentation aimed at using screening devices used for reducing heat loss through radiation. The results were not conforting - in addition to their difficulty in application of the method and up until the middle of the 1990s, the protection was abandoned. The new successive impulse is linked to the good results obtained in tests conducted in Emilia Romagna and based on under-treetop anti-freeze irrigation, an efficient protection with a low environmental impact.

During a workshop which took place in November 1998 in Lanxade, France, a growing concern and a general alarm emerged from the frequency and intensity with which freezing has been verified during the 1990s. It appeared, above all, an anomaly that this systematically recurred in alternative years, from spring frost in the 1990s, following a decade in which the late freezing was almost absent or rather limited and confined in the most unfavourable areas under climatic aspect, rather marginal concerning the agricultural production.

The results of the research conducted in France have a wider significance than a simple statistical confirmation on what has been observed in recent studies done in Italy; a large number of occurrences of late freezing deduced from studies carried out in France and in Italy show that the phenomenon cannot be defined as extemporaneous and local, but assumes wide connotations and may be part of an evolving climate trend.

Recent studies carried out in the province of Modena and in the Emilia Romagna Region have shown the physical aspect of typical freezing in the Po Valley area , linked to the phenomenon of nocturnal radiation of the soil. Geostatistical analysis of the data has allowed spotting of the areas that are most subject to the effects of freezing, whose influences are strongly correlated to the topographical component of the territory.

Normally, the coldest areas are situated in strips of flat land near hills and in the valley bottom, while the area of the hill appears the hottest, with increases in temperature of 7 – 10 °C, passing from the plains level and increasing to a height of 200 – 300 m.

Considering the significant role played by late freezing in this last decade, it is indubitable that there be a targeted, adequate intervention in response to expectations in this sector. Consequently, such an intervention brings to positive repercussions in the fields of agriculture, services and industries that produce the protective instruments and, in the social field creating the conditions to safeguard work positions,

The research aims to evaluate the effect of climatic changes taking place in some particular situations, capable of causing severe damage to the national agricultural sector. Redefining, for some typical Italian agricultural areas, the probability of early and late freezing and correlating them with the cycles of development of the main crops predicted according to the future climatic scenarios. This will constitute an instrument of analysis and forecasting of the effect of one of the main meteorological adversities. In addition, it will also be important to carry out a preventive study on the availability of the cold-units compared to the requirements of the main crops and of the trends of the winter temperatures observed in the last years and predicted in the future. The prevention of damage from freezing will be a further object of study through the evaluation of the efficiency of the protection system that is greatly eco-compatible.

The research will produce a series of cartographical and statistical documents with which it will be possible to define the most appropriate production strategy by the Authorities in charge of programming, by the technical services and the farmers. The intent is to reduce or strongly consider the risk associated with low temperatures or the lack of a cold-units following possible climatic variations. In particular, we will provide maps with different probability threshholds of frequency and intensity of freezing, probability of accumulated cold-units and tables of freezing frequency per grades of intensity and type.

The analysis combined with the probability of freezing and the development of crops will permit the mapping and statistical analysis on the probability, frequency and distribution of smaller productions than expected due to the effect of the forecasted minimum temperature by the future climatic scenarios, pointing out the most efficient protection systems for preventing damage from the freezing. The methodology and the software developed during the project will be available for final updating and study, and for applying the proposed methods to other national areas.

The results of the various research topics related to the predicted climatic scenarios in sub-project 1 of CLIMAGRI will constitute the meteorological basis upon which the detailed study will be carried out concerning the recurrence and influence of freezing and the distribution of the cold-units for each crop type in the next twenty years.

From the climate changes, we expect a further change in the crop phenology; phenological models will be calibrated and proposed during the finalized project “Phenology for Agriculture”. They will provide the basis of modelling to identify the new distribution of the development stages that are sensitive to different crops. With this new basis, we will identify risk probability. The application of the phenological models and the climatic analysis on the grid points used in the study of scenarios and the seasonal forecasts at local scale will be completed with orographic effects in a detailed scale. All of these efforts will serve to collect local result.

The research will examine the main crops of national interest: industrial crops, horticultural and fruit farming, that are sensitive to freezing effects or that need to satisfy their own requirements of cold. In particular, the following species will be identified: potato, tomato, onion, beetroot, maize, peach tree, apricot, apple tree, grapevine and actinidia.

Data analysis will be carried out with the statistical and geostatistical programmes examining the recurrence of critical events and delimiting the concerned areas for this analysis.

Important areas will be considered on the basis of national agricultural production and high tendencies to climatic risks. The identified areas are the Po Valley Plains (Bergamo, Voghera, Modena, Cesena), the Trentino Region (Valley of the Adige River) and the plains in central Italy (Agro Romano, Piana di Caserta). We will determine the variability of the land by first carrying out a climatological study on the average current situations and specific field surveys with this objective.

  • Project activities and coordination with the operative unit in charge of the study of climatic scenarios;
  • Research and definition of operational standards in relation to the crops to be included in the project;
  • Definition of the operational standards in relation to the organization of data and models;
  • Making the stations function for the agrometeorological measurements;
  • Acquisitions of crop phenology models ;
  • Definition of synthetic indices of sensitivity to freezing for the various species;
  • Preparation of the databanks with topoclimatic parameters;
  • Definition of the structure and development of operational software.

  • Development of operative software.
  • Implementation of crop phenology models .
  • Acquisitions of data coming from operational units in charge of the study of climatic scenarios (research topic 1.3 of CLIMAGRI ).
  • Measurements of the terms of energy and radiation balance.
  • Calibration of procedures.
  • Simulation of possible agronomic scenarios.

  • Analysis made among risk factors and the development of crops;
  • Definition of the risk indicators;
  • Production of maps and report;
  • Transfer of methodologies and research results to the unit in charge of coordination unit and documentation (Topic 4.1 of CLIMAGRI );
  • Updating of the regional data bank;
  • Dissemination of results through workshops , specialized magazines and technical meetings

  • Digital Terrain Model at the requested scale;
  • Integrated topoclimatic model that allows for updating of climatology of freezing, using the relevant data of the meteorological stations and the soil topography at a detailed scale (1:25.000 – 1:10.000);
  • Definition of standards for the estimation of a synthetic index of the susceptibility of the land to late freezing regarding the frequency, intensity and delay with which the freezing in the targeted areas of the study have occurred ;
  • Report on the sensitivity of various species to freezing.

The goal of the research is analysing climatic risk, carried out through calculations combined with meteorological data pertinent to the area of study, and characterized by type of meteorological pattern and long-term forecasting. The parametrization of the physical aspects of the freezing constitutes a fundamental instrument of knowledge for a correct characterization of the land in respect of climatic risk. Such knowledge will be used for the development of post-processing meteorological forecasts, specific for determining possible risks and discrete meteorological events for intensity and spatial variability, as is the case with late freezing.

The research is innovative regarding previous studies (i.e. those relating to the impact of future meteorological scenarios on agricultural productions) because of the attention placed on certain meteorological parameters that can assume a catastrophic effect on production. This stands in contrast to the usual way of placing attention on the average effects from environmental factors (temperature, rainfall, CO2) on plant growth. On the other hand, the study of meteorological risk carried out on data of climatology only, in present situations where climate changes occur as evidenced from various studies, risks producing futile results for planning new establishments in the main productive national areas . These various studies include: Climate Change 1992: the supplementary report to the IPCC scientific assessment; successive works by the Commission and results of the commissions that are responsible with aspects of national climate ? “National Action Plan Against Desertification”, National Research Plan for Climate Protection”.

The result of the research will constitute a work instrument to rationally face the aspects relative to making agricultural choices, taking in account the following factors: selection of varieties, agronomic and protection techniques, delimitation of areas at specific risk (supporting instruments in defining territory vocation).

Considering the vital role played by late freezing in this last decade, it is indubitable that a targeted intervention, with responses that are adequate to expectations, can determine a considerable consumption, with positive repercussions in the fields of agriculture, services, and industry that produces means of protection, and in the social field, creating the conditions to safeguard work positions.

The project provides a series of support and techniques for processing data, which are indispensable for correctly planning of technical assistance programmes according to the definition of the areas meant for different agricultural production.

Among the economic benefits, there are some that are more easily quantifiable. The direct advantages for the farmer and the taxpayer belong to this first category. The stability of productivity is an important component for the stabilization of agricultural income, in particular in global market conditions in which prices are not influenced by the locally-made productions, but relate to supply and demand at the international level. In this case, an intervention directed to safeguarding the local level of production presents notable advantages, such as not increasing local prices following low production determined by climatic factors.

Seasonal activity linked to the harvesting season and transforming the local product is strongly felt in the outcomes tied to unfavourable seasonal trends, particularly in devastating adversity such as freezing and hail. The safeguarding of the local production is automatically transformed into maintaining work positions or into growth that takes into account the consumption tied to industrial activity and tertiary work. Other essential social aspects regard the benefits associated with the entire chain of operations, with a correct information management among farmers, associations (by category and by product), and various actors in charge of the planning programmes, and of technical assistance and protection of production.

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