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Sustainable agriculture it is to improve soil fertility, contribute to the recycling and reuse of waste from the agri-food chain, to contribute to the production of energy from renewable sources and to recover marginal land. Sustainable agriculture it is also the most appropriate and convenient choice to guarantee food for everyone.
ENEA wrote this in the 4th National Report on Energy Efficiency in Italy presented in Rome. What does energy efficiency have to do withsustainable agriculture? Well, it matters a lot if you consider that the Italian food industry segment is the second in the country after engineering: 132 billion euros in turnover in 2013, about 400,000 employees and 55,000 companies. Therefore sustainable agriculture it is also energy efficiency. And viceversa.
Like one sustainable agriculture can also make a positive contribution to solving the energy issue, as can be seen clearly inbiological agriculture and inprecision agriculture. Two areas that, data in hand, ENEA invites to consider strategic for the national economy.
Biological agriculture. Italy is the leading exporter of organic food worldwide, with around 900 million euros in 2013. It is also among the first countries in the world for the area under organic cultivation (almost 1 million hectares), number of dedicated companies (almost 50,000 operators) and production of organic vegetables, cereals, citrus fruits, grapes and olives. Well, organic farming consumes on average a third less energy per unit of product produced than conventional agriculture, thanks to the use of less intensive means and techniques and local sales channels.
Precision agriculture. Precision agriculture is a technologically advanced form of agriculture, where the operating machines allow for optimal management of the land and can therefore play an important role in terms of reducing direct and indirect energy consumption. In fact, precision agriculture is an energy efficiency intervention in the cultivation phase because the use of mechanical means and makes the best use of technical means.
The points of contact between sustainable agriculture, food industry and energy efficiency are many and also concern, for example, the evaluation of the potential for co-generation, tri- and poly-generation. Or the diversification of energy supply, increasing the share of self-produced zero-impact energy with the use of renewable energy sources internal and external to the farm or the food industry.
A sustainable agriculture it would also have a positive impact on the food waste front. Millions of tons of food are discarded every year in Europe, which according to the FAO corresponds to almost a third of the food produced and distributed. In Italy, for 2010, considering an agricultural production remained in the field of over 1.5 million tons (equal to 3.2% of total production) and an energy expenditure due to agriculture of just over 3 Mtoe, the estimate the energy cost of food waste in agriculture is about 0.1 Mtoe and that of food waste due to the food industry is about 0.18 Mtoe.