Name Case Study Site: The Po Basin in Emilia-Romagna
Responsible partner: Ramazzini Institute

Geographical description
The Po Valley is the largest plain of southern Europe, with an extension of around 650 km from the Western Alps to the Adriatic Sea; it is located in Northern Italy, and is the surface of an in-filled system of ancient canyons formed by the Po river and its northern affluents from the Alps, and the southern ones from the Apennines. The valley is a sediment-filled trough, and it can be divided in an upper, drier part, not particularly fit for agriculture, and a lower part, very fertile and well irrigated. Here the first signs of agriculture date back to Etruscan and Roman times, and the agricultural identity consolidated through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the Modern Age. Throughout all its history, the balance between fertility and waterlogging has been delicate: wetlands were first exploited for fishing and transport, then drained with the help of technology.  

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The Padan Plain in Northern Italy (green) and the Po river basin in the Plain (red circle).

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The Po Valley as seen by the ESA's Sentinel-2.

 

Main farming systems
Agriculture in the Po basin is widely varied thanks to the favourable position, territory and climate, and also for the advanced production and distribution systems. The growing season is all-year and the cultures include vegetable, orchards, cereals, vineyards and oleaginous. Livestock is very developed, too. Both traditional, integrated and organic farming are well established and diffused throughout the Po basin.

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Organic vegetables around Parma.

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Orchards, peaches near Ferrara.

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Rice fields near Ferrara.

 

Ongoing research and innovation actions
There have been changes in the crops grown in the area, notably, a transition from the growing of hemp to increasingly specialized and intensive industrial monocultures, resulting in land degradation. One of the vulnerabilities of the area is its exposure to the expansion of large industrial complexes, which is transforming the whole area into a continuous peri-urban landscape. Another is the possibility of further changes in crops that could lead to further blotting out of the plots. Furthermore, organic agriculture rapidly expanded and now in the Emilia-Romagna region 117,000 hectares are cultivated with organic crops representing 11% of Utilised Agricultural Area (UAA). Innovative viticulture practices and winemaking techniques have been also adopted in the last decade.

Relevant stakeholders in the area
The agricultural sector is a central feature of all the territories of the Po basin, both from an economic, cultural and social point of view. Therefore, the first relevant stakeholder is the River Basin Authority, whose members include representatives of the central and Emilia-Romagna regional administrations. Farmers, but also trade unions and associations like Coldiretti, the county’s leading farming union, are relevant stakeholders. Finally, citizens are getting more and more conscious about the potential effects of pesticides on human health and the environment from pesticides, so the general population and consumers of the Emilia-Romagna region could be considered a stakeholder, too.

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