By Brian Russell
Monsanto Italy has engaged a prominent university and a leading irrigation company in a project designed to improve lives for Italian corn farmers.
Dubbed AquaTEK, the project brings Monsanto’s expertise in hybrid seed technology together with the irrigation expertise of the company Netafim Italia and the scientific prowess of the Università degli Studi di Milano. Department of Agricultural and Enviromental Sciences to study the best combination of seed types, soil information and irrigation for Italian farmers. The partnership began in 2013 after three years of internal-Monsanto study that gave the company the ability to recommend to farmers the best types of DEKALB hybrid corn seed based on their soil moisture and irrigation needs. Results from 2013, the first year of the partnership, are expected soon.
“AquaTEK is focused on the system of better water management while using the most appropriate genetics for corn in Italy,” said Carlos Vicente, sustainability lead, EMEA. “The partnerships with Netafim and the Università degli Studi di Milano. Department of Agricultural and Enviromental Sciences help develop proper scientific protocols and outline economic, social and environmental benefits of this system for the farming community in Italy.”
The project began inside Monsanto four years ago and was focused on bringing technical advice to farmers regarding their use of water in irrigation. It evolved in 2013 into a three-year, three-way partnership that is providing data collection and analysis to help improve the yields and sustainability of Italian corn farmers.
“This is a system, not a service,” Vicente said. “We are installing tools in fields, enabling us to monitor water content in the soil and send advice to farmers about the water content of the soil on their farms in a given moment, so the farmers can make the best decisions about irrigation. What we are then able to do with that information is offer suggestions about the most appropriate DEKALB genetics for irrigation conditions on their farms.”
Water conservation while maximizing yield is important in Italy, where 65 to 70 percent of all fresh water consumption is dedicated to agriculture. Italy has one of the largest irrigated agricultural areas in Europe with approximately 4 million hectares (10 million acres). Also, Italy experiences variable weather patterns — heavy annual rain mixed with hot and dry summers.
Cost is another reason for Italian corn farmers to reduce water usage in irrigation. In northern Italy, where nearly 80 percent of the country’s corn is produced, the average cost for each irrigated field is 200-400 Euro/hectare, equal to 15 to 25 percent of the total cost to produce the crop.
The project compares three types of water use – drip irrigation, sprinkler irrigation and no irrigation. It measures the amount of water in the soil from each type of irrigation, including real-time information for farmers, and enables the farmers to alter irrigation patterns while planting the most appropriate DEKALB hybrids. Meanwhile, the Università degli Studi di Milano. Department of Agricultural and Enviromental Sciences calculates, in quantitative terms, the economic, social and environmental benefits of the project.
The goal is to have scientifically-supported data that will enable farmers to use the best type of irrigation for their farms to achieve an optimum balance of soil moisture, plant the best DEKALB hybrid for that soil, and then use the university study to promote the benefits to other Italian farmers, stakeholders and society at large.
“We are providing the DEKALB hybrid seeds to farmers that are a better fit for the irrigation needs of their farm,” Vicente said. “Netafim is providing farmers with the equipment they need for proper irrigation on their farms. The university outcome will be a scientific study of the system that we are developing, and provide an independent assessment.
“We want the university assessment to stand on its own and serve as a reference for stakeholders and farming communities. Ultimately, this will bring value to farmers. This package of information focused on measured and analyzed economic, social and environmental benefits, will demonstrate to Italian supply chains and Italian society the Monsanto commitment to sustainability and our contribution to it in corn production in the country.”
“This project will advance our efforts to support farmers maximizing yields with conventional hybrids in the most sustainable way possible,” Vicente said. “During the spring and summer, we carry out educational activities with farmers. As they achieve higher yields per unit of natural resources and are more efficient in their use of natural resources, the more sustainable they become.”