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Environment: Italian farms will be "zero carbon" in 10 years

The study on the impacts of Italian zootechnics by Georgofili Academy/Attached document

The contribution of Italian zootechnics to greenhouse gas emissions is modest and constantly decreasing, representing 5.2% of the national total. Ammonia emissions are down. Real water footprint numbers have been published: 100-300 liters of water for one liter of milk, and 500-1000 liters of water for 1 kg of meat.

Much has been done in recent decades to reduce the ecological footprint of Italian animal husbandry, even if there is no lack of improvement objectives linked to innovation, research and technology transfer for this important supply chain. This is the synthesis of what emerged from the intervention of the Advisory Committee of the Georgofili Academy during the recent hearing in the Senate on "Breeding and climate change", at the Agriculture Commission, last 2 Feb.

The Italian animal production chains represent about half of the national agri-food value, contribute to the export of made in Italy, employ about 150 thousand people, cover 40% of the national rural territory, counteract the depopulation and degradation of “Internal areas” and are custodians of cultural and gastronomic traditions that it would be harmful to lose. The scholars of the prestigious institution - the Accademia dei Georgofili is the oldest Italian research entity in the agri-food field, founded in Florence in 1753 - considered all the impacts of farms, namely the emission of climate-altering gases, the emission of ammonia and the release of nitrites into water, and the consumption of water resources.

The research shows that the contribution of Italian livestock to greenhouse gas emissions is modest and constantly decreasing, representing 5.2% of the national total. The main emissions are due: i) to the CO 2 of the production cycle; ii) the methane emitted mainly by the digestive fermentations of ruminants (the main impact); and iii) nitrous oxide, deriving both from the management of bedding and sewage, and from nitrogen fertilizers used for the cultivation of fodder and feed.

The study recalls that the impact due to enteric methane is the most important and that compared to 1970 Italian farms have reduced methane emissions by 40%. In addition, this impact is a reversible problem, considering that its average duration in the atmosphere is only 11 years. Furthermore, the CO2 into which it is converted is from a renewable source with a zero photosynthetic balance, such as that exhaled by humans and animals. In other words, the biogenic origin of the methane carbon emitted by rumen fermentations (50% of the emissions of animal husbandry), that is, that derives from that fixed by plants with photosynthesis and ingested by animals with fodder and concentrates to be then reabsorbed by plants in a biological cycle, prevents them from accumulating in the atmosphere for hundreds of years causing them to heat up.

As for nitrogen emissions related to livestock farming, the correct management of manure in the stable and in the field (which increases the fertility of the soil) strongly reduces the sources of impact. According to Ispra, in fact, the reduction of ammonia emissions from farms in the period 1990-2018 was 23.4%.

Finally, the study sheds light on the consumption of water resources, considering that livestock productions are accused of being the main consumers of water: the above mentioned the 1000 liters of water to produce a liter of milk and 15 thousand for a kg of beef, are figures that also consider the contribution of rainwater, which is worth over 90%. But, beware: if we consider the recycled water and the rainwater collected, the data of the real water footprint are for milk 100-300 liters and for meat 500 - 1000 liters, i.e. in line with the production of other agricultural products. But the study goes further in refuting the most important cliché on the subject: if one wanted to consider green water anyway, this should be evaluated as the difference between the evapotranspiration of the forage and cereal surfaces intended for the production of livestock foods and of undisturbed natural surfaces (with the use of the net Water Footprint - nWFP method): with this method, surfaces covered with naturally grassed pasture can even show, in our Mediterranean environments, a negative nWFP value, giving the products obtained a value positive and not impacting on the water resource.

In conclusion, the progressive improvement of the production and management efficiency of the farms can give us a glimpse of the ambitious “zero carbon” goal within ten years. The inclusion of the carbon supply chain budget in the group of bonuses envisaged by the next National Rural Development Plan is a primary objective of the next CAP programming cycle for Italy.

Attached is the complete document of the Advisory Committee "Breeding and animal products" for the hearing at the Agriculture and Agri-food Production Commission of the Senate of the Republic, 2 February 2021.

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