LIFE HelpSoil - Helping enhanced soil functions and adaptation to climate change by sustainable conservation agriculture techniques

LIFE12 ENV/IT/000578

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Contact details:

Contact person: Luca ZUCCHELLI
Tel: +39 (0)267654599
Fax: +39 (0)267652576
Email: luca_zucchelli@regione.lombardia.it

Project description:


In the river Po Plain, the organic carbon stock stored in soils varies from 34-60 tonnes per hectare (t/ha). The potential for further uptake, if soils are managed appropriately, is estimated to be at least 12.8 t/ha of CO2 equivalent. Furthermore, increasing the organic content of soil improves its physical and chemical qualities, leading to enhanced fertility and better absorption of nutrients. This helps ensure that crops can resist environmental stress, reduces erosion and soil susceptibility to compaction, improves the ability of soils to act as a filter and buffer against pollutants, and boosts soil biodiversity. Better soil management can therefore contribute significantly to increasing the resilience of terrestrial ecosystems to climate change.


The objective of the LIFE HelpSoil project was to test innovative solutions and demonstrate soil management practices to improve soil quality, so as to make agricultural systems more resilient to climate change. The project covered the whole Po Plain (some 46 000 km2) and the Alpine and Apennine foothills. Specific project objectives included:

  • Implementing practices to improve soil organic carbon sequestration, soil fertility and biodiversity, and protect against erosion on a number of farms, with the goal of increasing agricultural sustainability and competitiveness;
  • Integrating conservation practices and innovative techniques in order to increase the efficiency of irrigation, improve the efficiency of fertilisers, particular livestock manure, and limit the use of pesticides; and
  • Developing indicators of soil ecosystem functions and new techniques to assess the environmental benefits of the practices tested by the project.

  • Results

    The LIFE HelpSoil project implemented and tested soil conservation practises on 20 experimental farms in the Po Plain, in northern Italy, over three growing seasons. The results showed that these practices enhanced soil functions and, due to being sustainable agricultural techniques, supported adaption to climate change. The practices improved soil characteristics, including organic carbon content and biological fertility, and led to a more efficient use of irrigation water, fertilisers and pesticides in the experimental plots.

    The project integrated innovative techniques and best practices for soil conservation and erosion control (e.g. no-till sowing, strip-tillage and cover crops); reducing water consumption during irrigation (e.g. micro-drip irrigation, fert-irrigation and sub-surface irrigation); novel fertilisation techniques using livestock manure (e.g. underground distribution systems); and innovative practices for plant disease control (e.g. using natural fertilisers to encourage micro-organisms in the rhizosphere). The most appropriate techniques were implemented at each of the experimental farms.

    By applying the HelpSoil system a range of direct environmental improvements were obtained, which were verified through laboratory analysis of soils as well as field surveys. These included significant increases in soil fertility and structure in soils managed with conservative practices; increased organic carbon content (0.02-0.76 t/ha/year) in the surface layers of soils; and improved biological activity and soil biodiversity. For example, the number of annelids and micro-arthropods was increased thanks to the application of conservative agriculture practices. There was a more efficient and sustainable use of irrigation water and fertilisation practices, and a noted decrease in soil erosion in fields in hilly areas.

    Climate change mitigation was supported as a result of the practices, through increased CO2 sequestration in soils (by 0.36-0.5 t/ha), decreasing fossil fuel consumption for agricultural work such as ploughing, and reduced greenhouse gases and ammonia emissions from soils. The reduction of energy consumption, in the range of 15 to 55%, also represents cost savings due to a reduced use of fuel, fertilisers, herbicides, water and other consumables such as seeds and composts. The level of benefit is dependent on several environmental factors (e.g. type of soil, climate) and technical factors (e.g. type of crop) that vary for each demonstration farm. These environmental benefits achieved on the demonstration farms could potentially be achieved in the long-term over large areas of the Po Plain.

    The project team published technical guidelines for soil conservation practises in agriculture, to aid their transfer to other parts of Italy and elsewhere in Europe. They promoted the practises through a video, newsletters, books and a website. Demonstration events, training days and field visits were organised in all the Italian regions involved in the project, reaching about 2 000 stakeholders. This approach was very important in increasing awareness of environmental issues among farmers and other stakeholders in the agricultural sector. This resulted in a continuation of the conservation practices in the project areas.

    The project contributed to the implementation of European strategies for soil conservation, namely the Soil Thematic Strategy (COM (2006) 231).In particular, the project activities can be considered a valid contribution to preventing soil erosion, conservation of organic matter, soil compaction, and biodiversity in soils. Project activities also contributed to reaching Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) goals for sustainable agricultural production and efficient natural resource use, particularly soil and water. They also support the European 2020 Climate & Energy Package.

    In the long-term, the project’s approach can generate significant socio-economic benefits. Its techniques allow crop cultivation using less chemical inputs and mechanical work, while maintaining the same productivity. The economic efficiency (incomes/costs) of the farms implementing conservation practices was found to be similar to traditional farms in the first year (about 2.4), but tended to increase (about 4.0) from the third year on. The HelpSoil system can help create green jobs in the agriculture sector, by making available more time and resources for the development of new activities that generate additional income and employment. Moreover, the conservation techniques can help farmers in disadvantaged rural areas obtain European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) support, to prevent the abandonment of farms in disadvantaged areas and to sustain local agricultural production.

    Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Communication Plan (see "Read more" section).


Environmental issues addressed:


Industry-Production - Agriculture - Forestry
Climate change Adaptation - Sectoral adaptation (industry-services)


agricultural method‚  Agriculture‚  soil degradation‚  soil erosion‚  climate change adaptation

Target EU Legislation

  • Climate Change & Energy efficicency
  • COM(2013)216 - EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change (16.04.2013)
  • COM(2014)15 - Policy framework for climate and energy in the period from 2020 to 2030 (22.01.2014 ...
  • Land & Soil
  • COM(2006)231 - “Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection” (22.09.2006)
  • COM(2010)672 - The CAP towards 2020: Meeting the food, natural resources and territorial challeng ...

Natura 2000 sites

Not applicable



Coordinator Regione Lombardia - DG Agricoltura
Type of organisation Regional authority
Description The Lombardy Region General Directorate for Agriculture deals with rural development issues, agricultural research and the general management of the agri-food sector. It promotes innovative agricultural techniques, which can contribute to the reduction of air pollutants and other environmental impacts.
Partners Veneto Agricoltura, Italy Centro Ricerche Produzioni Animali-CRPA S.p.A., Italy ERSAF, Italy Regione Emilia Romagna-DG Agricoltura, Economia Ittica, Attività Faunistico-Venatorie, Italy Regione Autonoma Friuli Venezia Giulia–Direzione centrale risorse rurali, agroalimentari e forestali, Italy Regione Piemonte-DG Agricoltura, Italy Regione del Veneto-Direzione Agroambiente


Project reference LIFE12 ENV/IT/000578
Duration 01-JUL-2013 to 30-JUN -2017
Total budget 2,941,515.00 €
EU contribution 1,308,381.00 €
Project location Piemonte(Italia) Valle d'Aosta(Italia) Liguria(Italia) Lombardia(Italia) Trentino-Alto Adige(Italia) Veneto(Italia) Friuli-Venezia Giulia(Italia) Emilia-Romagna(Italia) Toscana(Italia) Umbria(Italia) Marche(Italia) Lazio(Italia) Campania(Italia) Abruzzo(Italia) Molise(Italia) Puglia(Italia) Basilicata(Italia) Calabria(Italia) Sicilia(Italia) Sardegna(Italia)


Read more:

Project web site Project's website
Publication: After-LIFE Communication Plan After-LIFE Communication Plan
Publication: Case study "Life HelpSoil: Migliorare i suoli e l'adattamento ...
Publication: Guidelines-Manual "HelpSoil: Linee Guida: Per l'applicazioe e la dif ...
Publication: Layman report Layman report


Project description   Environmental issues   Beneficiaries   Administrative data   Read more   Print   PDF version