Cortijo Maestre, hosted a field day to present the INSPIA project (European Index for Sustainable Productive Agriculture) in Seville, Spain. INSPIA analyses the efficacy of a set of Best Management Practices in 58 farms distributed over Europe. Clara Aguilera, Vice-Chair of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development of the European Parliament, participated actively during the visit, where she assured that the INSPIA’s Best Management Practices will serve to set new agri-environmental schemes in CAP’s future reviews.

Nowadays, European agriculture is facing essential challenges. As FAO warns, by 2050 there would be a need for 70% more food produced to satisfy the growing population demands. This challenge would only be achievable by making compatible the social welfare, together with the natural resources protection, such as soil, water and biodiversity, and the profitability of farmers. INSPIA project aims to demonstrate that this challenge is possible. The project acronym summarizes its target; to create with a solid scientific basis, supported by verifiable field data, a European Index for Sustainable Productive Agriculture. INSPIA project is led by the European Conservation Agriculture Federation (ECAF) in partnership with the French Sustainable Agriculture Institute (IAD) and the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA). In Spain, the Spanish Association for Conservation Agriculture Living Soils (AEAC.SV) and the Spanish Crop Protection Association (AEPLA), collaborate in the coordination of the farms network and in the professional training of farmers and technician.

58 farms distributed across Europe.

Measuring the efficacy of these beneficial practices is one of the main relevant aspects of INSPIA, as Emilio González, Secretary General of ECAF, stressed in the field day: “the key point of INSPIA is to demonstrate the effectiveness of these BMPs, which are being monitored in each farm through the evaluation of a set of 25 indicators. The progress at farm level is being registered in an on-line platform developed specifically for the project by the French Institute of Sustainable Agriculture (IAD), with the scientific and technical support of ECAF and ECPA”.

A virtuous circle has been designed in INSPIA. Every season, farmers will be audited in order to assess their sustainability. The first season, a sustainability diagram based on the indicator results obtained in each farm’s first audit was created. After analyzing the results, the INSPIA team advises every farmer on the BMPs that could be implemented or improved for the next agricultural season. Therefore, the new BMPs will impact the sustainability diagram of the farm, evidencing the enhancements achieved. The process would continue in the same way for the following seasons. This constant process aims to help achieve farmers’ best performance. Gonzalez stated that “INSPIA results will be shared with the European Parliament and Commission in order to raise agricultural awareness of the BMPs and serve as basis for coming agricultural and environmental policies. Farmers should be better rewarded for enhancing and delivering ecosystems services and improving natural capital”.

Clara Aguilera supports the INSPIA project.

Clara Aguilera, Vice-Chair of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development of the European Parliament, participated in the visit to “Cortijo Maestre”. Ms Aguilera had the opportunity to appreciate the positive effects of applying many of the INSPIA BMPs in field: “we have to shift from conventional agriculture to these techniques, although it will take us time because it means a change in the agricultural model and in the way of thinking of farmers. However, we need to show that this sustainable way of making agriculture is possible. The higher profitability obtained mainly thanks to the reduction of costs whilst enhancing yields is of special interest, due to the fact that BMPs are delivering numerous benefits to society”. In an interview for the Spanish National TV (TVE), which broadcasted the field day, Clara Aguilera went further when affirmed: “Undoubtedly, INSPIA project outcomes will serve to recommend agri-environmental schemes in future CAP’s revisions. The new CAP has already endorsed the “Greening” model and in future reviews it should go further, towards this kind of sustainable and conservation agriculture. These projects of best management practices must help create a new normative model. Organic farming and conservation agriculture, which respect biodiversity, should be models to follow”.

Jesús A. Gil Ribes, Professor of the University of Cordoba and Chairman of the AEACSV, reminded that an effective “sustainability” must be based on three pillars: “the use of best management practices affect to a series of indicators that can be grouped in three essential categories; social welfare, environmental and economical. It must be pretty clear that all the indicators have to reach at least minimum sustainability thresholds from the three categories in order to be considered truly sustainable”

Finally, Carlos Palomar, Manager of the Spanish Crop Protection Association (AEPLA), explained the role of the plant protection products (PPPs) in sustainable agriculture: “INSPIA project promotes an optimized use of the PPPs through strategies adapted to the crops needs by applying modern technologies, like precision agriculture. We have to produce more with less, and the PPPs are one the tools that we should use with common sense for protecting the environment. Agriculture is major activity for protecting the environment. Therefore, food production should count on the INSPIA BMPs. Moreover, INSPIA does not forget the importance of the correct waste management in the farm and its effective integration in the recycling channels”.

“Cortijo Maestre”, an example of Best Management Practices

“Cortijo Maestre” farm, where the field day took place belongs to the European INSPIA network. Certainly, it is a pioneer farm in the implementation of sustainable agriculture for rainfed arable crops. Attendees were able to learn about the farm management and the BMPs applied. Main topics of the field day follow:

  • Pedro Maestre is the farm manager: “I joined INSPIA to satisfy my interest in matching agriculture and environmental protection”. He described the crop rotation that is typically performed on the farm, based on cereals, oilseeds and legumes. Pedro explained that “the farm management is adapted to the climate determining factors and the heavy soil type”. He is proud of keeping and improving the nearer environment to a stream crossing his farm, where the boundaries of some plots and the most susceptible paths are kept with different species that improve biodiversity and avoid erosion, which is a major problem in Southern Spain. Likewise old gullies have been regenerated, stabilizing them by planting natural species. The farmer has devoted an area with trees for improving biodiversity habitats, and also leaves the ground covered with stubble all season long for improving soil fauna. “If you see birds and mammals above ground, that means we are managing the ecosystem correctly”, stated the farmer.
  • Taking as a reference the LIFE+ Agricarbon experience, Manuel Gómez, AEAC.SV agronomist responsible of the monitoring of the Spanish farms of the network, reported that “the fuel utilized in a conventional tillage is next to 50 l/ha, whereas in no tillage it hardly reaches 20 l/ha”. Several no-till seeders were shown in field and so were the elements that make them work disturbing soil as little as possible. As well, it was remarked the technology installed in tractors, such as precision farming features, and high flotation tires that improve the traffic along the plots due to a better weight distribution, providing less foot-print and superficial compaction.
  • Julio Román, technician responsible of the “TOPPS Water Protection”, project from the University of Córdoba, displayed in a very easy way how “the water runoff and the erosion can be reduced up to 90% thanks to the groundcovers and the multifunctional buffer strips that, besides conserving soil, are considered a very effective strategy in favor of the biodiversity in crop lands”.

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