The Italian Agriculture and Climatic Changes

Analysis and cataloguing of long-term agronomic experiments: productivity and the carbon cycle

Prof. Giuseppe Zerbi
Department of Vegetal Production and Agrarian Technologies (UniversY of Udine)

The hypotheses underlying the present research is that through analysis with new methodologies of the data in the long-term agronomic series, it is possible to find the reactions among variables of agricultural agro-ecosystems and climatic changes. The research of such variables will be studied through various methodologies at different time scales in such a way as to allow a temporal integration of various acquired knowledge.
  • Short time scale (hours, days): This is useful for the study of physiological and agronomic mechanisms to integrate into the long- and medium-term temporal scales.
  • Medium time scale (days, months): This entails the study of knowledge already acquired and formalized in the simulation models both at the crop and the ecosystem level.
  • Long time scale (months, years): Innovative experimentation will be carried out on variables, such as the organic matter of the soil that has the same temporal variability as that of the foreseen climatic changes (decades, centuries).
The main objective of the research is the creation of a database that collects the main information and data regarding long-term agronomic tests and its structure and analysis for modelling and computer use.

This data will be used for the validation of models. Through the successive scenario and sensitive analysis, it might be possible to identify the minimum threshold of different atmospheric variables that are capable of introducing considerable variations in agricultural production. The results compared with the climatic scenarios may yield indications on how and which variables will significantly show the first effects due to the climatic changes.

Another objective of the research will be the international recognition of the work taking place in Italy in order to valorize Italian research and incorporate it into activities already begun at the global and European levels.

The aim of the research is the creation of a database that will collect the essential information and data regarding long-term agronomic experiments and its structure and analysis for modelling and computerization.

Further, through collaborating with the modelling component of the CLIMAGRI project, this data will be used for the validation of models. Through successive analysis of scenarios and sensitivity, such data would be able to identify the minimum threshold of different atmospheric variables capable of inducing appreciable variation in agricultural production. The results compared with climatic scenarios could provide indications on when and on which variables the first effects of climatic changes are significantly shown.

Another objective of the research will be the international recognition of the work that is taking place in Italy in order to valorize Italian research and incorporate it into activities already begun at the global and European levels.

The results of such work will be brought to producing data archives regarding agronomic long-term experiments . They will also be used in defining methodologies for supporting political and technical decisions concerning possible mitigative interventions. The strong interaction between the modelling and archive components of this project and other projects of analogous subject matter that are present internationally demonstrate an important role in current research, both at the national and international levels. Other than through the traditional channels, the dissemination of such work will be accomplished through the digital communications networks both through digital packages with a multi-criteria knowledge base. Researchers and technicians of the sector will therefore be able to understand the results, as will the wider public.

The research will be divided into three main fields that concern, respectively: the analysis of historical data and structuring a database; the development of certain analytic field surveys aimed at gathering possible variables that are still missing and/or adding some variables regarding the carbon cycle; and the interpretation and usage of information collected for the modeling applications oriented to identifying the expected agroclimatic scenarios.
  • Collecting all the meaningful data regarding the long-term experiments conducted in Italy, researching possible contributors for the initial database and their computerization. The research will also be carried out with the help of a web site created to show the salient features of the inscribed database, to permit easy entry and inscription of other databases.
  • Creating a relational database with a flexible structure. The foreseen activity concerns the standardization of the formats and units of measuring the data obtained, in relation to the modelling applications and in the territorial information systems. The routines for the extraction, the pre-treatment and the conversion of database information (for example, the use of pedo-functions of transfer) will be developed. In addition, for each feature, all information on typology and quality of data will be recorded (uncertain, measured, reconstructed, etc.) in the database.
  • Analysing productive and agro-ecological data in relation to long-term meteorological data (comparing localities, weighting of meteorological data, historical series, cropping practices, etc.).
  • Identifying some sites on which to undertake an in-depth analysis of the carbon cycle.
  • Developing a methodology to show the effect of climatic changes on agricultural production or on main agroecological variables, isolating the influence of extra-climatic factors (technical and genetic progress).
  • Calibrating and validating the CSS model for the simulation of crop systems with the historical data gathered. In particular, modules that make the model sensitive to variations of the main climactic and atmospheric parameters (temperature, rainfall, CO2, etc.) will be improved, and the agronomic practices and the effects of rotation will be taken into account.
  • Analysing the sensitivity of the model based on the main simulated variables (productivity, stability of agroecosystem, impact on the environment, etc.), to show the potential risks connected with climatic variations.
  • Producing annual reports on activities.
The innovative aspects of the research regard the production of certain technical instruments, the development of innovative methodologies and the creation of a base of useful knowledge to forecast the effects of climatic changes in agriculture.

It is hoped that the technical instruments will be given to users outside the project as well, and be constituted from archives and meta-archives of agronomic, pedological data and data relating to meteorology from long-term agronomic experiments in Italy. This archive may be used for calibration and validation of various crop models in diverse environments and through successive sensitivity analysis. Such analysis will allow for the demonstrating of agroecosystemic variables that will be most influenced by climatic changes.

This archive will be completed with a detailed study regarding the most sensitive variables and other indicators that describe the agro-ecosystem, beyond the cropping periods concerned, in order to supply indications on the most adequate methodologies for the study of climatic changes. Methodologies at short time scales (respirometer, eddy covariance) will be compared with methodologies at a longer time scale (isotopic discrimination) than those normally used with crop models.

The historical knowledge will be supplemented with that extracted during the project in order to give it effective application in the field of predictions and agricultural planning. The effects of climatic changes on the Italian agricultural reality will be shown as well as some strategies of mitigation and planning.

With advanced mathematical and analytical methods, Italian archive with a flexible structure containing the data from long-term agronomic experiments , allow for the examination of the effects of the process on the agricultural ecosystem according to a long-term time scale. This archive will be useful for many technical and scientific personnel.

The long-term effects of climatic changes will be able to be simulated through the gradual integration of ecological and agronomic models, permitting the construction of scenarios, political-economical planning, and the formulation of a support system to decision-making.

The possible effects of climatic changes will be able to be examined from the measured data on the entire national territory.

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  • Harrison , P.A. and Butterfield, R.E. 1999. Modelling climate change impacts on wheat, potato and grapevine in Europe. In Climate change, climate variability and agriculture in Europe: An integrated assessment. Oxford, UK, Oxford University.
  • Parry, M.L., Porter, J.H. & Carter, T.R. 1990. Agriculture:climate change and its implications. Trends in ecology and evolution, Vol. 5, 319-322.
  • Reilly, J. 1996. Agriculture in a changing climate: impacts and adaptation in climate change 1995. , Moss R.H. and Dokken D.J. (eds.). Impacts, adaptations, and mitigation of climate change: Scientific and technical analyses.


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