December 21, 2017
Italy is not only a large producer of pasta, but it is also Europe’s number one exporter of rice: Italian short-grain rice varieties are held in high regard by chefs and gourmets all over the world since they are particularly suitable for making risotto. The Piedmont region is said to be the “rice bowl” of Italy and is home to the Coppo-Garrione family who owns and runs the “Tenuta Darola” rice farm located in Trino Vercellese: 1,000 hectares of farm land are managed by the family, including 400 hectares which are owned by the Coppo-Garriones. Due to its significant size and technological advancement, the farm is regarded as a trendsetter in rice production. Furthermore, the history of the farm is deeply connected with that of the region which is why the family has a large responsibility in caring for the land and supporting rural culture.
Just like farmers all over the world, the Coppo-Garrione family faces major challenges that modern farming brings: price competition and a growing body of consumers who value Italian rice are putting the family under pressure to deliver higher yields – yet, for the soil to remain fertile, sustainable measures are needed that conserve biodiversity, water and other precious resources. To help tackle these challenges in a collaborative way, BASF has initiated a platform called “Farm Network”. This network enables like-minded key stakeholders like farmers, researchers or local environmental and farming experts to connect. Each partner brings valuable expertise to the table whereby BASF is responsible for advising the farmers on how to implement sustainable techniques. Outcomes are independently measured over time and lessons learnt are shared and incorporated into future programs.
With its entry into the Farm Network in September 2017, the “Tenuta Darola” farm is the newest of over 50 members and the first rice producer to join the collaboration. “We are very enthusiastic about joining this project, fueled by sustainable innovation and aimed at protecting the competitiveness of our rice cultivation,” says Piero Garrione, head of the Tenuta Darola farm. He hopes that the collaboration will raise public awareness of the challenges that farmers like the Coppo-Garriones need to overcome. The farm owned by Garrione and his family is not the only Italian member of the Farm Network: The Ortosole farm near Rome – a large producer of vegetables run by the Tiozzo family – already joined the collaboration previously.
Their participation has been a great success: the Tiozzo family’s farming knowledge helped BASF experts to develop and improve a biodegradable mulch film to keep competing weeds and water management under control. “We used herbicides on our fields for many years, but we wanted to and had to reduce this,” explains Eugenio Tiozzo who is an experienced farmer and senior member of the family. Some years ago, the Tiozzo family came up with the idea of putting many small holes into the mulch film. The holes help to spread out growth evenly and improve the distribution of water – a simple idea which film experts had not thought of. “Sometimes, it’s important to remember that the farmers’ experience can be more valuable than the knowledge of industry experts,” says Gian Luca Tabanelli, BASF Crop Protection.
“Both Ortosole Company and Tenuta Darola are proud members of the Farm Network, a BASF partnership,” says Manuela Pirovano, Communication and Sustainability Crop Protection Italy. “These two farms represent examples of applied sustainability in agriculture and demonstrate how innovative solutions and co-creation can bring real results in the field.”
Apart from the two farms in Italy, member farms are located in France, Germany, Poland, Greece, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom and since 2017 in Belgium as well. In addition, BASF is looking to establish new partnerships in the near future. Andrew Pitts who farms “The Grange” in the UK values the cooperation as it has helped him to increase the level of biodiversity on his land: “In this country, there is a saying that your farm is not given to you by your parents, but your land is lent to you by your children. If you think about that, it implies that we are stewarding our land and have a duty of care,” he explains. Pitts managed to enhance the wildlife on his farm by taking out low-yielding areas of production and converting them into wildflower strips. This process has not only contributed to increasing the number of beneficial insects that help control pest outbreaks, but it has also lowered the costs of production. The farmer welcomes the related surge in yields since after all, farming is more than just his passion; it is also his bread and butter: “Sustainability begins with profitability. If your business is not profitable, you cannot be sustainable,” he explains.
Besides bringing farming and industry experts together, the Farm Network is open for public discourse: each farm welcomes visitors and demonstrates to the public how sustainable agriculture measures can have a positive effect on both modern farming systems and the protection of biodiversity and resources. In the longer term, the network would like to see these techniques being embraced by new farms outside the existing network.