Inspirational ideas: Italian table grape farmers cooperate to improve soil quality
The extent of soil pollution in the EU is alarming. Altogether, over 137 000 km2 (6.24% of all agricultural soils in Europe) need remediation activities (1). In the Italian region of Apulia, 22 grape farmers are working together in a cooperative. One of their main aims is to manage and maintain healthy soil.
Cooperation among table grape farmers in this region is common. Cooperatives are very useful for marketing purposes, they help to increase negotiation capacity with retailers and markets. The cooperation is also very useful for maintaining healthy soils. One of these cooperatives is OP OROFRUIT located in Rutigliano, it brings together 22 table grape farmers and with its 220 ha of vineyards is one of the largest in the Apulia region.
Pasquale Parente works as an agronomist for OP OROFRUIT. “Our cooperative has set very high standards to keep our soil healthy and to increase its quality. Growing grapes is a very input-intensive process and it could potentially contaminate soils. This can happen by the overuse of fertilisers and other chemical inputs. Working together therefore is very powerful to prevent soil contamination”, he says.
Several measures to improve and maintain soil quality are used by the members of the cooperative. Pasquale: “Central in our cooperation is the prevention and the possible increase of soil fertility through sustainable land management and green manure. Firstly, grinding rocks and mixing them with soil is the standard procedure in the area for cultivating table grapes. This increases soil depth and expands root growth penetration, providing them more water and nutrients. Moreover, the high content of calcium combined with good climatic conditions makes Apulia perfect for growing table grapes.”
“Besides that, we have adopted a fertigation system based on the eco-physiological needs of the grapes. Fertigation is a technique that combines irrigation with fertilisation. It helps to maintain soil fertility, because it gives the adequate amount of fertiliser at the right time and the right place. The risk of contamination due to over-fertilisation is therefore reduced. In the end, it saves money for the farmers and increases potential yields. It is also a very useful tool to efficiently use water and nutrients, especially in this area where water is scarce.”
“Besides the fertigation system, we go for a minimum use of pesticides and other chemicals. We normally apply some organic fertilisers as grapes are very demanding of nutrients which are easily absorbed. Finally, on some of our lands we combine reduced tillage associated with cover crops like legumes (i.e. Vicia faba). Biomass, from pruning for example, are added to the soil. Regarding the future, we can say that we are all open to try new technologies and soil management practices that will increase soil quality. If each farmer would use all these measures it would have some positive impact on soil, and in our cooperative this effect is positively multiplied 22 times.” Pasquale concludes.
1. Tóth, G., et al. 2016. "Heavy metals in agricultural soils of the European Union with implications for food safety." Environment international 88 (2016): 299-309.
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