Sustainable Agricultural Mechanization

Impacts of COVID-19 on agriculture: Italy's response


Italy and its agricultural context

Italy is classified as a high-income country.

Italy and FAO work together to pursue the common objectives of reducing poverty and ending hunger and malnutrition worldwide.

With 1.1 million farms, Italy has 12.6 million ha of agricultural land and an average farm size of 11 ha.

In 2019, Italy confirmed its first position in EU 28 with € 31.9 billion of agricultural value added.

Thanks to the rapid technological development that has taken place in recent years, agriculture is experiencing a revolution. The advent of new machines and tools for agriculture, such as satellites, drones, proximal sensors, software and robotics are bringing numerous benefits both in agronomic and economic terms.


Impacts of COVID-19 on the Italian agro-food sector

The spread of COVID-19 and the measures implemented to limit the infection have deeply impacted all economic sectors in Italy.

With many hotels, restaurants, cafés (HoReCa channel) and schools shut for business, food producers have risked to be penalized by excess stock (especially of perishable food) and low liquidity. Pivoting supply toward retail consumers was further complicated by the closure of local markets, changed market demand, and sanitary and phytosanitary measures related to trade. The combination of these effects put a strain on the food system as a whole.

Lockdown measures and border closure also disrupted the usual organization of work and flow of labour, causing risks of seasonal workers shortages for the spring harvest. Rural tourism was impacted due to the cancellation of all farm stay accommodations.

However, the Italian agro-food chain has demonstrated great resilience to guarantee the supply of food to consumers.


Actions taken by the Italian Government to reduce the impact of COVID-19

During the pandemic, the government took numerous measures to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on all production activities. These were based on two fundamental principles:

1)              Ensuring public safety for all citizens.

Measures included restricting the movement and gathering of people, all while ensuring the continuous availability of food in the country through food stores, the sanitation of workplaces, bonuses for workers who remained in service and the gradual reopening of productive activities. These measures helped to contain[1] the spread of COVID-19.

2)              Containing the social and economic impact of COVID-19.

Measures included financial support for employees forced to take unpaid leave; grants, loans, state guarantees, capital contributions and grants for interest subsidies to help companies rebuild their liquidity and solvency position; temporary tax waiver and deferral of tax payment to help businesses manage their cash flow.


Specific measures for the agro-food sector

In addition to the measures provided to address the financial impact of COVID-19 on all production sectors, the government set up specific schemes for the agro-food sector allocating more than € 1.1 billion.

These interventions aimed to ensure liquidity and flexibility, and help reignite the most affected supply chains.

A total investment of € 500 million was allocated to the following priority sectors: floriculture, dairy, animal husbandry, wine, oil, fruit, vegetables, fisheries and aquaculture.

To address the food emergency and the 40 percent increase in food demand by all vulnerable people, the government has allocated € 300 million.

In addition to governmental horizontal interventions, specific credit lines and guarantees were provided to farmers who have been able to receive an extraordinary advance up to 70 percent of the direct payments, under the CAP (Common agricultural policy).

For the cereal sector, the Ministry of Agriculture promoted supply chain contracts between the Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policiesand different private sector actors along the value chain nationwide. The objective of these contracts was to promote investments and reshape socio economic outcomes at different sites of the value chain (from production to value addition, retail and distribution).

For the wine sector, € 50 million was invested in crisis distillation[2] and subsidies of € 100 million were allocated to compensate production losses of grapes for high quality wines.

To help agro-tourism recover from COVID-19 challenges, Italian regions (first sub-national level) will provide financial support, thanks to the extraordinary measures proposed by the European Commission through rural development programs.

Regarding immigration, the regularization of undocumented foreign workers was introduced. Visa deadlines of seasonal workers have been postponed and several private platforms for recruiting in the agriculture sector have been created.

To respond to the health emergency, the 44th edition of the Bologna trade show EIMA International will be turned in a digital mega-event, and the machines and equipment for agriculture will be presented in presence in February 2021.


The role of mechanization to respond and overcome COVID-19 negative impact in agriculture

A well-structured agricultural mechanization system has guaranteed safe working conditions for operators as well as the proper treatment of products. The agricultural sector can rely on the national production of tractors, other machinery for agriculture, gardening and associated components - whose value was about € 11.5 billion. The largest share was assigned to exports, which reached a value estimated at about € 7.5 billion in 2019.

The Italian industry has a diverse range of products, as national manufacturers make machinery suitable for any type of territory, precisely to adapt to the different needs and variety of the agricultural systems of the country.

In Italy, there are different levels of mechanization, from a very basic level which includes the use of traditional mechanization lines, to an advanced level which includes a wide use of smart devices.

The promotion of precision agriculture started in 2016, when Italy launched the Agriculture 4.0 program. The new technologies introduced by this program have helped farmers better address challenges brought on by COVID-19.

Satellites, drones, sensors assembled on tractors and fixed chambers installed in the field allowed farmers to monitor crop growth remotely and verify field conditions while monitoring interventions in person were not allowed.

The set of collected data fed agronomic models capable of providing farmers with decision support for the optimization of several agricultural practices like fertilization plans, irrigation advice, crop protection models, etc.

Operators could communicate the work completed through the apps, avoiding contact with the administrative part and automatically updating the campaign notebook.

The use of IT systems to record the operations carried out, the position of the machines and the involved workers, guaranteed the origin and processing of the final product in areas not affected by COVID-19. Sometimes, in case of contagion of an operator, the use of IT systems helped to reconstruct his routes, sanitize potentially contaminated areas and allow the health check of colleagues who got in touch with him.

The main future challenge in this regard will be training specific professionals to utilize, handle and manage all these new technological tools and promote further investments to make farmers more resilient through the help of new technologies.


Building agricultural resilience to natural disasters

The high impact of natural hazards and disasters on agriculture calls for enhanced mainstreaming of disaster risk reduction and resilience building within the agricultural sectors. Strong attention was dedicated to the issue of agricultural risk management under the Republic of Italy’s G7 Presidency in 2017. In order to make a concrete contribution to this subject, the Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies of the Republic of Italy has decided to finance a study on Building agricultural resilience to natural disasters. The study will contribute towards strengthening the capacities of countries (globally) in preparedness for early action in response to early warnings on climate shocks (mainly drought, flood and storm), high-impact diseases emerging health threats and conflicts to better protect agriculture livelihoods.



Innovation and sustainable mechanization play a critical role in the long-term resilience of the agriculture sector and are a priority for both FAO and the Government of Italy.

Appreciation and gratitude is extended to the Ministry of agricultural, food and forestry policies of the Republic of Italy for the preparation of this paper, which shows the role of sustainable agricultural mechanization and the ways in which it has helped the country’s response to COVID-19. The paper was written by Dr Graziella Romito, Directorate-General of European Union and international policies of the Ministry of agricultural, food and forestry policies.


Photo credit: Vella A&C, seeder VSD



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[1] The number of daily new cases of COVID 19 collapsed from 6557 on 21st of March to 142 on 30th of June.


[2] The crisis distillation scheme supports the transformation of excess wine into alcohol.