Supervisione scientifica e testi: prof. Maurizio Borin (Dipartimento di Agronomia, Animali, Alimenti, Risorse naturali e Ambiente – DAFNAE – Università di Padova)
Interviste: prof.ssa Elisabetta Novello (DiSSGeA, Università di Padova), dott.ssa Daniela Gottardo (LabOr – DiSSGeA), prof. Nicola Dal Ferro (DAFNAE, Università di Padova)
Riprese e montaggio: dott. Michele Angrisani (LabOr – DiSSGeA)
Design e Sviluppo: dott. Andrea Micheletti (LabOr – DiSSGeA)
… una risorsa?
I liquami contengono sostanza organica ed elementi nutritivi, per cui la loro utilizzazione agronomica deve essere prioritaria nella gestione della fertilità dei suoli agrari ed è fondamentale per mantenere un buon livello di sostanza organica nei terreni.
The Nitrates Directive
Animal husbandry effluents are one of the main sources of nitrogen release in deep and shallow waters. Nitrogen, in its nitric form, can compromise drinking water supplies and contributes, together with phosphorus, to the eutrophication of surface water. The primary objective of EC Directive 676/91, known as the Nitrates Directive, implemented in Italy via legislative decree no. 152 of 11th May 1999 and ministerial decrees of 7th April 2006 and 25th February 2016, is (article 1) to “reduce water pollution caused directly or indirectly by nitrates of agricultural origin and prevent any further pollution of this sort”.
The strength of the Nitrates Directive is that it has become the cornerstone of other important environmental directives (such as EC Directive 2000/60, for example, which set up a framework for community action as regards water) and dictated certain straightforward norms, the most effective of which established that effluent quantities must not generate nitrogen levels higher than 170 kg per hectare per year per individual firm or cattle farm.
The directive’s effects have been controversial: on one hand improvements have been detected in water body quality and awareness of environmental problems amongst farmers has been raised, on the other, it has increased animal husbandry’s financial and management burdens.
The SEESpig and GEZOO projects
funded by Fondazione in Rete per la Ricerca Agroalimentare | AGER
The goal of the SEESpig (Multi-regional Solutions to improve the Environmental and Economic Sustainability of PIG manure management in the Regions of the Po and Veneto basin) project was to supply guidelines on the technical and financial sustainability of potential action and operational solutions targeting environmental improvements and legal conformity in pig farming, including by setting up a support system for decision making and the assessment of certain real life case studies. The project’s activities have supplied concrete responses to problems regarding reducing the environmental impact of pig farming, linked essentially to farm effluent management.
GEZOO (Improving practical effluent management: use of SEESpig software in animal husbandry firms) focuses on transferring SEESpig generated innovations to national production contexts, both individually and collectively, via business trips and meetings, seminars, events and documents.
A key part of GEZOO is business involvement, with software being demonstrated and used and suggestions, requirements and critical issue information being gathered via questionnaires. Business decisions are both strategic and delicate. Agricultural businesses are frequently not well disposed to hosting business trips or supplying data, even when initiatives come from university researchers. This is certainly dependent on their commitments in animal sheds and fields but it is also a sign of fears that such visits may be followed up by inspections and checks or even that any information gathered may be manipulated and made public in misleading ways. However, thanks to the involvement and contributions of category associations and the organisation of introductory seminars, dozens of firms have successfully been brought into in the project in Piedmont, Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia.
The impact of GEZOO
The project has created a strong bond with its stakeholders: first and foremost individual pig farmers who benefit from an IT tool capable of optimising technical, agricultural and economic aspects of effluent management; secondly category associations and public bodies who can integrate the results obtained from the perspective of a wholesale vision of the issues to be dealt with and decisions to be taken for improved business efficiency. The young researchers involved in the project have received training on project themes and gained experience in direct contact with farmers.
The technical solution
A multiplicity of actions and operational solutions have been validated by the SEESpig project and publicised via the GEZOO project, ranging from effluent treatment technologies, storage issues, transport and distribution and agricultural improvements
Il problema delle superfici aziendali
Spesso l’allevamento non dispone di superfici sufficienti a recepire l’intera quantità di reflui prodotti per ottemperare ai vincoli della Direttiva Nitrati, ne’ può diminuire il carico allevato, pena la riduzione o l’azzeramento dei margini economici. Deve quindi affrontare il problema di gestire l’eccedenza di azoto. Una delle soluzioni è la delocalizzazione verso aziende agricole che non possiedono allevamenti e che accettano, tramite contratto, di mettere le loro terre a disposizione.
The purpose of effluent treatment is to reduce nitrogen levels and improve effluent characteristics in order to make it suitable for efficient and environmentally friendly distribution. In the bulk of cases, farmers struggle to source the funds they need to buy the technologies required for virtuous effluent management and joining a consortium can be opportune. Economies of scale can thus be exploited and more complex and thoroughgoing solutions developed, including those designed to make use of the organic substances in effluents for renewable energy generation. An example is the Caraverde energia plant which treats effluent from 25,000 pigs and 1,800 dairy cows, generating 8 million kWh, capable of fulfilling the energy needs of 4,000 families. The renewable energy thus generated enables 3,400 tons less per year of CO2 to be released into the atmosphere.
Storage and agricultural use
The time frame for the distribution of country effluents is conditioned by crop cycles and weather conditions, as well as existing laws. Taken as a whole and examined by the SEESpig decision-making support model, these circumstances lead farms to build storage structures and carefully plan and manage transport and field distribution phases. Storage involves costs and opportunities: the greater the tank capacity, the higher the costs but also the higher the use time frame flexibility. In the event of a rainy season, larger tanks also enable farms to wait for more favourable field access conditions. Distribution machinery owned by farms or made available by third party firms must guarantee rapid action, agricultural efficiency and containment of ammonium loss into the atmosphere.
Farm sustainability obstacles and technical assistance
Combining production with quality, working in accordance with the law, maintaining competitivity both nationally and internationally: these are challenges which farmers cannot manage alone. Growing costs, paperwork, the need for constant updating, unfair competition: these are just some of farmers’ risk factors. In this scenario, farms need technical assistance. Farms’ environmental sustainability is an ongoing objective, including in the wake of international, national and regional laws. Important hurdles have been overcome in animal wellbeing, fodder quality and health and respect for environmental resource terms.
Agriculture 4.0 opportunities
Digital applications in agriculture have huge potential to shore up farm incomes, production quality, consumer safeguards and protection and enhancement of the natural and cultural heritage.
Digital’s potential benefits have yet to be fully explored, for the most part, however, although agricultural business people are increasingly familiar with the Internet of Things and show growing interest in its use.