The Fontanabona farm is located in the Po’ Valley, a few kilometers far from Verona and the Pre-Alps. It is about 7 hectares wide. The Fontanabona family has been cultivating organically since 1982, but the field has the current characteristics since 1999. About 4 hectares of the land are reserved for kiwi crops, while in the remaining part of the land horticultural products (such as lettuce, celery, cabbage and chard) are cultivated in greenhouse and in open field, under anti-hail nets.
Statement of the farmer
I want to be involved in SOLMACC project because I want to share knowledge and best practices at European level.
Currently, the farm is run by Paolo Fontanabona. His father, Giuseppe Fontanabona, was one of the first farmer contributing to the spread of the Organic Farming in Italy. He was convinced that only choosing organic farming could guarantee the respect for the simple things, the nature and the Earth. In 1989, he participated in the founding of the Agricultural Cooperative “La Primavera”, which now brings together 89 organic farms located mostly in Verona area (including also Fontanabona farm).
The Cooperative checks that the method of organic farming is rigorously applied in the various stages of the production by means of the periodic analysis of soil samples and products. A team of technical experts ensures the implementation of this control system, the assistance and training of all members of the Cooperative.
The farm has a total size of 7 ha: 4 ha are used for permanent crop (Kiwi production) while the rest is used for vegetable production. The farm is organic since 1982 and the vegetable production is sold to an organic cooperative. The presence of a single market channel influencse in economic terms the possibility to improve crop diversification.
The main focus of this farm is the fertilization strategy. The farmer puts 6kg/m2 of animal manure on the soil and a summer green manure every year. However, the compost in this farm is rich of fibre. The fertilisation with compost is done in two periods of the year: before summer green manure and before summer vegetable. The compost, deriving from livestock farms of the area, is stored in 3 compost piles, with an height of 1,5 meters and a length of 30 meters covered with hay. The farmer does a biodynamic management of the piles.
The main problem is the absence of a regular turning of manure piles due to a lack of the specific machinery. The farmer is aware of this problem and he would like to organise a collective purchase of the machinery with other local farmers, however it needs to be organised.
Another observation of the advisory team was related to the efficiency of the covering of the piles with hay. Considering the high level of rain in the area, it would be better to use a plastic material, such as polypropylene that could be recycled.
Compost and animal manure have a high yield in term of humus that increases in the soil with the present fertilisation strategy. The quantity of compost (6kg/m2) gives a yield in terms of humus three time higher than the humus loss due to mineralisation. Microbe biodiversity is enhanced also by green manure and the use of mulch for weed management reduces the loss of organic matter. The advisory team would like to use soil analysis to:
- Exclude the risk of nitrogen loss in the environment as the quantity is higher than the one needed by vegetable production
- Verify the quality of fertilization in terms of stable organic matter
- Check the capacity of this fertilisation strategy to control nematodes and other soil parasites that could result from the actual crop rotation.
The actual crop rotation in greenhouse/tunnel for a surface of 1,5 ha is bi annual:
Spring celery/animal manure + summer green manure/ autumn lettuce/animal manure + spring cabbage/animal manure + summer green manure/ beta vulgaris autumn or Spring beta vulgaris/animal manure + summer green manure/ autumn lettuce/animal manure + spring cabbage/animal manure + summer green manure/ autumn celery.
This rotation will be improved increasing the presence of legume mixes used for green manure, as the increase in number of crops does not have an economic feasibility in the short term due to the cooperative market demand. In open fields, lettuce/fennel rotate with green manure. This rotation results unsustainable in agronomic term by the advisory team. Two suggestions have been made related to crop rotation: to increase the presence of legume even if the organic nitrogen derived by the compost is sufficient for the leaf vegetable production and to consider the introduction of green asparagus as high yield long standing crop (10-12 years).
The tillage in this farm is limited to grubbing and digging over before each new crop. The green manure is managed with good tillage and no improvements are required in this sense. Weed management is done with plastic mulch that are used for 2 years and then recycled, this allows to avoid mechanical weeds control. However, one limit is that the hole in the plastic mulch are done with high temperature to reduce the time and cost of labour. This method is not sustainable and the hole in the plastic should be done by hand at transplanting.
The farm has a good presence of trees and green infrastructures in the farm border. There is no space for improvement due to the small surface of the farm. The kiwi production on the border of the green house area represents also an interesting element in term of agroforestry.