Irrigation in Italy
Graziano Ghinassi  1@  , Stefano Tersigni  2@  
1 : Dipartimento di Scienze e Tecnologie Agrarie, Alimentari Ambientali e Forestali, Università degli Studi di Firenze  (DAGRI)  -  Site web
Via S. Bonaventura, 13 - 50145 Firenze -  Italie
2 : Istituto Nazionale di Statistica  (ISTAT)  -  Site web
Istat - Istituto nazionale di statistica Via Cesare Balbo 16 00184 - Roma -  Italie

After Spain, Italy is the Country of the European Union with the largest irrigated area, and the fourth as percentage of irrigated area to the total cultivated area. About 50% of the annual water withdrawal is allocated to agriculture, corresponding to about 16 billion cubic meters. Irrigation plays a fundamental role in the value chain and the dynamics of the sector are closely linked to the directives issued by the European Union, including the CAP and the funds allocation to Rural Development, of particular interest for irrigated farms. The next CAP 2021-2027 includes financial measures that are also relevant for the protection of both climate and environment, so for irrigated farms access to EU funding can be facilitated by organizational management more oriented towards the modernization of structures and the use of technologically advanced equipment.

According to data collected by the Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT), the total number of farms has more than halved (-53%) in the last 35 years (1982-2016), while in the same period the cropped area reduced by 21%. The average size of the farms has therefore more than doubled (+ 116%). From 2013 to 2016, the number of irrigated farms decreased by 32%, while the irrigated area per farm increased by 28% on average. In the last 20 years the share of irrigated area for some types of crops, especially fruit and citrus plantation, increases in percentage (about +12%), also for the vineyards from 2000 to 2013 is about 11%. In summary, the number of farms decreases more than proportionally with respect to both cultivated and irrigated areas.

According to the 6th General Census of Agriculture (ISTAT, 2012), the use of irrigation water increases with the extension of farms and with surface irrigation systems (border, furrow, basin) still practiced on 40% of the irrigated area and contributing to the national average of 4.700 m3/ha of applied water. A wide range of efficiency values was found at the field level in different years and conditions on micro (39-93%) and sprinkler (35-88%) systems. Individual influence of both system performance and irrigation scheduling on the overall result was evaluated under some actual conditions. In areas where advisory services to support on-farm irrigation operated, the amount of applied water reduced by about 10%.

With the Decree of July 31, 2015, the Italian Government approves the guidelines to quantify the irrigation volumes used, in implementation of European directives. Implementation is in charge of individual Regions. Currently the degree of application of such Decree does not allow to have complete and reliable information on the quantities actually used, but the reorganization of the Reclamation and Irrigation Consortia on the national territory represents the precondition towards a complete implementation. The irrigated areas that benefit from advisory services, both provided by Consortia and available for individual farm, are increasing on a national scale. Results in terms of water saved have grown up to 30%. In recent years, the number of multifunctional and organic farms is growing, together with the farms led by farmers with high school diploma and university degree.

Irrigation machines and equipment produced by national manufacturers make use of latest technology to increase overall irrigation performance. This can be done in different ways: as advanced irrigation machines, individual components, integrated systems supported by monitored water balance and remote control of all field operations, according to the so called Digital Irrigation. In addition, particular attention is also paid by some manufacturers to the reduction of the climatic impact of irrigation, by developing specific devices to reduce GHG emission both during component production and field operation of the machine.

A rather complete farm reorganization to optimize some agronomical practices, including irrigation, is in progress. Improving performance of irrigation equipment, as well as the use of advisory services, can led to conditions that, more than in the past, are suitable to support future challenges and benefit from incoming opportunities.

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