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Methodological Aspects of On-Farm Monitoring of Cropping Systems Management

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Author(s): Luca Bechini | Nicola Castoldi

Journal: Italian Journal of Agronomy
ISSN 1125-4718

Volume: 3;
Issue: 4;
Start page: 287;
Date: 2011;
Original page

ABSTRACT
To conduct agro-environmental assessments at field and farm scale, detailed management data of crop and animal production systems are needed. However, this type of data is only rarely collected by public administrations. In the period 2005-2006, we made an experience of on-farm monitoring of cropping systems management, within a larger project aimed at assessing sustainability of agricultural systems in Italian Parks. In this paper, we describe and discuss the steps taken to carry out periodic face-to-face interviews in farms in the Sud Milano Agricultural Park (northern Italy). The first step was the selection of seven farms, which we identified by applying cluster analysis at a large database describing 733 farms of the Park. After having identified the most relevant agro-environmental issues in the studied area, we established a list of simple but sound indicators to evaluate the effects of agricultural management on the environment. The criteria used to select the indicators were that they should: be calculated on easily available data, not be based on direct measurements, make a synthesis of different aspects of reality, and be easily calculated and understood. The indicators selected evaluate nutrient management, fossil energy use, pesticide toxicity, soil management, and economic performance. Subsequently, we designed a data model to store input data used to calculate the indicators (farm configuration, flows of materials and money through the farm gate, animals and their rations, history of crop cultivation, crop management). The data model that we obtained is relatively complex, but adequate to store and analyse the large amount of data acquired during the two-year project. A questionnaire was developed to fully comply with the indicators selected and the data model. The questionnaire was used to carry out approximately six interviews per farm each year, with an investment of time of 1-2 hours per interview. Appropriate double checks of data collected in the interviews were put in place to ensure a good data quality. The data collected were used for the calculation of several agro-ecological indicators. The results show that nutrient management in maize is not satisfactory due to high surpluses, while meadows have the lowest surplus. The fertilisers and diesel consumption are the most important energy inputs to maize, while their importance is lower for the other crops. Seeds and fertilisers are the main costs for maize and winter cereals, while diesel consumption represents a large part of the economic costs for meadows; pesticides are the principal costs in rice. We concluded by identifying steps for further research.
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