The Italian Agriculture and Climatic Changes

The active role of agriculture in the mitigation processes of global change (reduction of CO2 emission, organic matter of the soil, etc.)

Anna Benedetti
Research Institute of Plant Nutrition-Rome

The motivations of this research are based on the necessity to (i) quantitatively define the role of agriculture and the type of soil management on the global balance of CO2 and on their global climatic changes for the Mediterranean environment; (ii) to develop a concrete analysis of the capability of agriculture in reducing the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere; (iii) to target Italian agriculture and soil management to a non-dissipative use of resources for sustainability of equilibrium conservation, both globally and of the specific ecosystem.

The project will first entail acquiring data on the content of organic carbon and the kinetics of the mineralization of the organic matter in Italian soils with different pedological and vocational characteristics, together with their calculation according to the forecasting models that are capable of extrapolating the phenomenon in the long term. It will be possible to provide a method for evaluating the capacity of dissipation/acquisition of carbon from the ecosystems in the Mediterranean environment, and therefore, for evaluating the capability of different agricultural practices in reducing the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. Through the study of some turnover time of organic matter in Italian soils will show the existing connections between the type of management, the quality of the organic matter present, the quality of the organic matter dissipating under the form of CO2 and the biological fertility of soils. Further, we will come to the application of models for predicting the effects of different agricultural practices on the capability of soils to reduce CO2 emission and to “sequester” atmospheric CO2 as a stable humified matter.

  • To study the impact of different types of land management on the carbon cycle and the CO2 emissions from the soil, quantifying the phenomenon for different environmental types (natural forest cover, reforestation practice, cropping systems, “set-aside”, marginal areas, etc.) and climate.
  • To identify a statistical-mathematical model for the Mediterranean environment and for Italian soils in particular that allows an estimation of the involvement of different environmental sectors (biotic and abiotic) in the cycle of organic matter and, specifically, in the mineralization process of organic carbon. The model will be an indispensable key to understanding the role of soils in the Mediterranean environment in the storage of organic carbon and therefore, in sequestering carbon from the atmosphere.
  • To provide valid data on the content of organic carbon in Italian soils and their dimensions in the mineralization/accumulation phenomena that occurred in this century and that will characterize different ecosystems present in the national territory during next centuries.
  • Control of the factors in the process of mineralizing-humifying metabolization of organic matter, including the quality of the substrates, and the physical and chemical conditions.
  • To be able to identify the practices and the systems of soil management that largely allow, on the one hand, the reduction of CO2 emissions and, on the other, increase the capability of the soils to sequester and conserve the carbon in humified form.
  • To locate the biomass and necromass cycles, their relationships with vegetal types and their effects on carbon sequestration.
  • To construct forecasting models on the evolution of the capability of carbon sequestering in agricultural soils and forestry environments, according to the integration of climatic, pedological and biochemical data.
  • To develop a concrete analysis of the available means of planning to ensure that the cultivation of the soils may contribute to reducing, rather than increasing the greenhouse effect.


  • To create a database for the acquisition of data on the quantity and the quality of the organic matter of Italian soils.
  • To acquire statistical-mathematical models for the analysis of the dynamics of the carbon cycle in agricultural and forest soils.
  • To identify the significant areas (pre-existing experimental plots, natural and artificial systems of which previous management is known) on which to carry out field experiments for the validation of the models.

  • Laboratory and field tests for the study of the kinetics of accumulation/mineralization of organic matter in soils of different origins and vocations.
  • Application of models for the study of the capacity of dissipation/acquisition of carbon of diverse ecosystems under examination.

  • Analysis of the influences on the phenomena of accumulation/mineralization of organic matter in the soil of different chemical variables, physical and biotic (pedological characteristics, temperature, humidity, exposure, chemical characteristics of the organic matrices, diversity of the composition of the microbiotic community of saprophytic, etc.)
  • Calibration of the models with data relative to field experiments.
  • Validation of models and study of their applicability in diverse Italian realities.
  • Application of models for the evaluation (and forecasting) of the efficiency of the practices and soil management systems in reducing the emission of CO2 and in the “sequestering” of atmospheric CO2 at the national level.

  • To create a database for the acquisition of data on the quantity and quality of the organic matter in Italian soils.
  • To acquire the mathematical-statistical models (for example, Century Model, NCSoil, etc.) for the analysis of the dynamics of the carbon system in agricultural and forest soils.
  • To locate significant areas (pre-existing experimental plots, natural systems and artificial systems that we know about from previous management) on which we will carry out field tests for the validation of models (The collaboration of the Regions in order to identify sensitive areas to include in the study will be fundamental for this objective).
  • Refining and acquiring methods to study the kinetics of accumulation and mineralization of the organic matter of the soil; to refer in particular to the use of isotopic techniques that support the analyses of relative abundance of the different fractions of the organic matter of the soil, of the stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen, as well as the use of marked organic material (stable isotopes) to add to the soil to allow for the study of turn-over velocity.

It is urgent to define the role of Italian agriculture and forest management in the processes of mitigating the emissions of greenhouse gases. At the international level, in fact, the environmental issues are discussed too often without direct reference to any particular reality, such as the ecological characteristics of the natural and artificial systems in the Mediterranean environments. This situation is therefore mainly ascribable to the scarcity of experimental data and values of references for the typical Italian environments.

In order to define the capability of Italian agriculture in reducing CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, it is necessary to deeply understand the mechanisms persisting in the mineralization processes and the accumulation of organic matter in the soil under different environmental and economic conditions in the country.

The development of biochemical indicators for quick use in analysing the impact of different types of land management on the carbon cycle at the soil level, may provide for planning the use of soil according to environmental sustainability, in the sense of mitigating emissions of the greenhouse effect.

The main effects of this project consist of defining a method that may permit, through few field surveys and the use of forecasting models, targeting to agriculture and the management of Italian soils to a conservative use of resources. Consequently, this will result in sustainably maintaining equilibrium of global and individual ecosystems. A soil management that may reverse the dissipative process, which is currently in use in many Italian realities, will have positive consequences. There will be both a major accumulation of organic matter of quality in the soil and a substantial contribution of agriculture to the reduction of the atmospheric CO2.

At national level, it is expected that this research stimulate the local authorities (the Regions, for example, or the Park Authorities) to promote further in-depth research on specific realities, to identify the practices and the systems of soil management capable of reducing CO2 emissions and increasing the capability of carbon accumulation in a humified form. Further, since the sensibility towards the quality of the environment has also been of interest in the Italian political and economic spheres, the activation of long-term research on the use of soil as a “reservoir” of stable organic matter may be positively involved in further experimentation so as to achieve widespread results.

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