Better soil health retains water in dry Italy

In Umbria and Tuscany, farmers improve soil health and mitigate drought with organic farming practices.

Farmer's hand holding dry soil
Farmer's hand holding dry soil

Nicola Chiucchiurlotto is the head of Madrevite farm. His wheat fields, olive groves and vineyards lie among lakes and rolling hills in east Umbria, just a short walk from the border to Tuscany. He describes the soil in his area as clayey, tenacious, variable, and fertile.

“Having rich and fertile soil is the basis for a healthy development of crops. But, in the last 20 to 30 years, the soil has been badly exploited. Too many single crops, too much chemistry, and too much financial exploitation,” he says.

Chiucchiurlotto is one of many Italian farmers who, faced with climate change, drought, new regulations, and changing market demands, work to improve soil health through organic farming practices.


Organic approach to tackle dryer climate and soil

Healthy soil maintains water retention, recycles nutrients, and plays a pivotal role in storing carbon, which contributes significantly to mitigating climate change. “Yara supports farmers in managing the new realities of climate change with our extensive agronomic knowledge and precision farming solutions. Mitigating the damaging effects of drought on crops is an important goal” says agronomist Giorgia Cocolo.

Since dry clay is hard and can reject the rain, adding organic material increases the clay´s ability to absorb and retain water. This biomass also offers more space and oxygen to the roots and feeds useful microorganisms into the ground. All are benefits that improve root development and make crops more resilient to drought and other environmental hardships. By increasing the organic content of the soil, Yara’s organic-based fertilizer products improve soil health and crop resilience, which in turn can improve yields.

Italian farmer

In Montalcino, Tuscany, Lorenzo Magnelli grows olives and produces the famous wine Brunello di Montalcino. He is convinced that the dryer climate requires an organic approach to farming. His farm has been certified organic since 2005.

“You can only make quality wine if you have healthy vines, and you will only have healthy vines if you have healthy soil,” he says.


Ensuring soil balance with organic nutrients

Both Chiucchiurlotto and Magnelli recycle organic resources on their farms. They apply manure fertilizer and add organic material from their farms into their soil. Between the rows of vines, they plant fava beans to fix nitrogen in the ground, or other plants such as mustard to keep roots in the ground and moisture on top. After the harvest, the biomass from cover crops is mixed into the soil to increase the organic content.

These organic practices require meticulous and constant attention to the soil.

“When you grow organically, you increase the confidence with your soil, because the soil is always talking to you, saying either “I'm good”, or “I'm missing something”, or “I am not balanced”. If you don't regenerate with quantities of organic material, you lose the balance,” Magnelli says. By closely observing the soil, he says he can treat it according to location-specific conditions and needs.

“When you are organic, you must know every part of your vineyard. That way you can manage each single part much better. When vines in one place have too much energy and vines in another lose energy, you can respond with precision,” he says.

Yara’s agronomist Giorgia Cocolo explains the benefits of a better and controlled distribution of nutrients in organic farming with Yara´s organic-based fertilizer products “This saves resources while getting the best possible yield”.

In addition, Yara's organic fertilizers are safely sourced from recycled nutrients, reducing waste and carbon footprint.

Farmer's hand grabbing soil


Soil health = A better planet

The two farmers feel a close relationship with their soil.

“My vines are my children. When you have children, you want to give them a house and something to eat. The soil is the house, and you want to give them the best. This describes my relationship with the soil,” Magnelli says. For Chiucchiurlotto, by caring for the land, he is also caring for the people and planet.

“If we want to save the human species, we must go back to doing what is needed and not just what is convenient. We must make sure that we leave a better planet for our children.”

Nicola Chiucchiurlotto, farmer

“To responsibly feed the world and protect the planet, we need to produce more food on the same amount of land with less environmental impact. Therefore, it is important to optimize the productivity of all farming methods, including organic. That way, we ensure that the best crop nutrient management practices and support tools for precision farming are available for all farmers”, concludes Yara’s agronomist Giorgia Cocolo.

With Yara’s organic based fertilizers, there are even more ways to make your farm thrive.