Stop 8 – Organic agriculture: field crops

What is organic agriculture
Organic farming is an agricultural system that respects the environment and the health of all living beings
Organic agriculture originated in Switzerland in the late 1940s in response to the impact of industrial agriculture on the environment, on the quality of products and the marketing systems which tend to make farmers increasingly less involved in the markets

Organic agriculture issues
Since the end of the 20th century, organic agriculture has taken on an increasingly important role worldwide. In Italy it accounts for over 15% of the total agricultural area and is regulated by European law. To meet the needs of organic farmers, who are poorly supported by technology and by industry (agrochemicals, seeds), research needs to focus on the fundamental issues related to:

  • soil management aimed at maintaining fertility
  • management of the mineral nutrition of plants in accordance with their natural cycles
  • non-chemical control of weed flora

CiRAA’s research on organic agriculture
CiRAA already acknowledged the importance of organic agriculture in the early 2000s. MASCOT (Mediterranean Arable Systems Comparison Trial) began in 2001 and is still ongoing. It involves 22 hectares, 12 of which are cultivated according to organic methods. It is one of the largest and most innovative long-term studies in Europe
The aim of MASCOT is to assess:

  • the productivity of the main field herbaceous crops (wheat, sunflower, pigeon bean, etc.) cultivated in organic farming
  • the effects on the environment of the organic management of such crops
  • the quality of the products

MASCOT has demonstrated the validity of organic farming in improving or maintaining soil fertility and biodiversity compared to conventional systems. The organic system has influenced the productivity of crops both through a lower ability to control the infesting flora and through the lower availability of mineral nitrogen in the soil. Cereals (wheat, barley and maize) seem to be the most affected crops, while legumes and sunflowers have proved to be more suitable for organic systems

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