HomeProgressNutrition of soils and crops, the integrated action plan in the EU

Nutrition of soils and crops, the integrated action plan in the EU

The lack of crop nutrition is today one of the most serious problems associated with soil degradation and desertification, as well as decreases in agricultural yields. (1) These phenomena could among other things worsen due to war economy which is depriving European farmers of the availability of nitrogen fertilizers historically supplied by Russia. (2)

The European Parliament, on 24.3.22, had approved the cultivation of fallow land and areas of ecological interest - under the excuse of food security - without giving up pesticides and agrochemicals. (3) In contrast to the scientific community which instead recommends continuing towards ecological transition and agroecology. (4)

In the meantime, the integrated action plan for the management of nutrients in agriculture is outlined in the EU. (5) Some ideas to follow.

1) Crop nutrition, premise

The nutrition of crops it can be understood as the set of agronomic techniques that favor the supply of nutritional elements to the soil. Concerning mainly nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium. The nutrition goal can be pursued with different strategies:

a) self-production of nutritional elements through agronomic activities. Eg crop rotations, reuse of waste, disposable crops, manure from animal husbandry,

b) input external. We refer to fertilizers and technical means, as classified in the cd Fertilizers Regulation (6,7). In essence:

- organic fertilizers, derived from organic materials of animal or vegetable origin, consisting of organic compounds to which the main elements of fertility are linked in organic form or are in any case an integral part of the matrix that temporarily immobilizes the nutritional elements incorporated therein (also preserving them from losses by leaching),

- mineral fertilizers, where the declared nutritional elements are present in the form of mineral compounds obtained by extraction and / or physical and chemical industrial processes,

- organo-mineral fertilizers, obtained by reaction or mixture of one or more organic fertilizers or of one or more organic matrices with one or more mineral fertilizers.

2) Fertilizers and technical means

The various fertilizers and technical means available have strengths and weaknesses:

- mineral fertilizers are characterized by a rapid action, due to their greater solubility. But to this advantage correspond the costs (economic and for the environment) of the easy dispersion beyond the objectives,

- organic fertilizers release the nutritional elements progressively but they are better resistant to washout,

- organo-minerals aspire, with interesting results, to combine the advantages of the two categories.

3) Principles of reasonableness

The principles of reasonableness defined in agronomic practices - essential for a calibrated use of fertilizers and technical means - are divided into three criteria:

- return. The nutrients absorbed by the crops must be returned to the soil,

- minimum (or Liebig's principle). Each plant is limited in its development by the scarcest nutrient in the soil,

- maximum. The quantity of fertilizers must never be excessive, but adequate to the needs of the individual crops.

4) Abuses, economic losses, pollution

Failure to comply of the principles of reasonableness has generated a series of problems with an impact on the economy of companies, agricultural systems and ecosystems:

- significant alterations natural nitrogen and phosphorus cycles cause nitrate pollution in drinking water e agricultural waters, atmospheric particulate matter, eutrophication (i.e. suffocation of life in water). In addition to the loss of biodiversity in soils and water basins (lakes, rivers and seas), the decrease in productivity, the increase in greenhouse gas emissions, (8)

- the excesses of nitrogen and phosphorus in ecosystems in Europe have already exceeded the safety limits identified at international level, thanks above all (2/3) to the waters downstream of agricultural systems. (9) The latest report on the Nitrates Directive refers to eutrophication in 81% of marine waters, 36% of rivers, 32% of transitional waters and lakes, 31% of coastal waters. (10)

5) Nutrient management, the integrated action plan

Criticalities mentioned above - and above all, the need to reduce the dependence of EU agriculture on input third countries - prompted the Commission to speed up some interventions already mentioned in the action plan for the circular economy, the strategy Farm to Fork and that on biodiversity 2030 (11-13).

The action plan integrated for nutrient management intends to examine the entire nitrogen and phosphorus cycle with attention to all environmental compartments (air, water, marine environment and soil) and all sources of pollution (agriculture, industry, cities, waste, energy, transport), to identify an integrated approach to reducing pollution in all nutrient cycles.

5.1) Objectives

EU strategies Farm to Fork Biodiversity 2030 already indicate the objectives of:

- halve nutrient losses,

- reduce the use of fertilizers by at least 20%, also thanks to

- significant increase in organic farming, which must reach 25% of the utilized agricultural area (UAA) in the EU by 2030.

5.2) Tools

Agroecology it is the only model capable of contributing to the actual achievement of the indicated objectives. It is based on the privileged use of native resources in production systems, without affecting (or minimizing) the use of non-renewable environmental capital. The operating model takes the form of:

- organic agriculture. Using a limited set of input external, never of chemical synthesis, only in cases of proven necessity, e

- integrated production. Significant - and proven - reduction in input external, while admitting those of synthesis. (14)

6) Biostimulants, precision agriculture

Nutrient management it can be applied effectively, even apart from EU policies by drawing on the technical knowledge currently available. Without neglecting the valuable contributions offered by biostimulants, such as i mix of algae, microalgae and tannins (Algatan), as well as mycorrhizae (15,16).

Precision agriculture, as seen, it can also help collect useful data to better understand and intervene on:

- environmental context (climatic conditions, crop precessions, type of soil),
- soil endowment (measurable by analysis of available nutrients),
- needs of the crop.

Donato Ferrucci and Dario Dongo

Cover image from Biostimulants for sustainable crop production ed. Youssef Rouphael; Patrick du Jardin; Patrick Brown; Stefania De Pascale and Giuseppe Colla (ed), 2020, Burleigh Dodds Science Publishing, Cambridge, UK (ISBN: 978-1-786-76336-5; https://bdspublishing.com) 


(1) Dario Dongo, Giulia Torre. Desertification and soil degradation, PRIMA research and innovation. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(2) Dario Dongo, Maria Rosaria Raspanti. War economy. State aid in the agri-food sector, European fisheries fund, record of food prices. GIFTS (Great Italian Food Trade). 8.4.22/XNUMX/XNUMX,

(3) Dario Dongo. Food security, thesis and antithesis of the European Parliament. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 27.3.22/XNUMX/XNUMX,

(4) Dario Dongo. From Farm to Fork to Farm to War, the appeal of science for a resilient food strategy. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 22.3.22/XNUMX/XNUMX,

(5) European Commission. Nutrients - action plan for better management. Public consultation 29.3.22-26.4.22https://ec.europa.eu/info/law/better-regulation/have-your-say/initiatives/12899-Nutrienti-piano-dazione-per-una-migliore-gestione_it

(6) EU Reg. 2019/1009, laying down rules relating to the making available on the market of EU fertilising products, amending reg. CE 1069/2009, 1107/2009 and repeals the reg. CE 2003/2003. In force since 16.7.22. Text updated on 25.6.19 on Eur-Lex, https://bit.ly/3nQ2cvx

(7) Legislative Decree 29.4.10, n. 75. Reorganization and revision of the regulations on fertilizers. Text updated on 31.5.22 on Normattiva, https://bit.ly/3OXObI5

(8) Marta Strinati. Phosphorus pollution, how to get out of it. OPF report. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 14.6.22/XNUMX/XNUMX,

(9) European Environmental Agency (EEA). Is Europe living within the limits of our planet. 17.4.20, https://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/is-europe-living-within-the-planets-limits

(10) European Commission. Report on the implementation of Council Directive 91/676 / EEC on the protection of waters against pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources based on Member States' reports for the period 2016-2019 (COM / 2021/1000 final). https://bit.ly/3IwIFJL

(11) Dario Dongo. Fertilizers and circular economy, the new EU rules. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 28.11.19/XNUMX/XNUMX,

(12) Dario Dongo. Farm to Fork, resolution in Strasbourg. Focus on pesticides and fertilizers. GIFTS (Great Italian Food Trade). 23.10.21/XNUMX/XNUMX,

(13) Dario Dongo, Giulia Torre. Special - EU 2030 Biodiversity Strategy, the plan announced in Brussels. GIFTS (Great Italian Food Trade). 31.5.20/XNUMX/XNUMX,

(14) Integrated production is defined as an agri-food production system that uses all the means of production and defense of agricultural production from adversity, aimed at minimizing the use of synthetic chemicals and rationalizing fertilization, in compliance with ecological, economic and toxicological principles (law 4/2011, article 2)

(15) Dario Dongo, Giulia Torre. Microorganisms and microalgae in agriculture, sustainable innovation. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 22.6.20/XNUMX/XNUMX,

(16) Dario Dongo, Andrea Adelmo Della Penna. Biostimulants in olive growing, the organic revolution. Scientific review. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). two.

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