Scaling Up Innovative Concepts into Agricultural Field Experiments

The described innovative concepts whose theoretical mechanism and functioning were derived from laboratory experiments, need not only to be verified in real field scale conditions, but also to be proved harmless to the physical, chemical, nutritional, and biomolecular quality of soils. This overall objective was looked for in the MESCOSAGR project.

At the basis of this project there was the intention to go beyond the traditional practices for carbon sequestration and put in practice the innovative concepts which stemmed form the described novel scientific understanding of OM chemistry and transformation in soil (Piccolo and Teshale 1998). Field experimentation was then scientifically conducted in four Italian agricultural sites located in experimental farms belonging to different universities (Fig. 1.7).

The details of the experimentations can be found in Chaps. 3, 5, and 7. The following two innovative technologies were thus adopted as soil treatments in the experimental sites under different crops and in comparison to other agronomic

Fig. 1.7 Experimental sites of the MESCOSAGR project in Italy

practices for carbon sequestration. The soils had different textures and placed along a north-south transect in order to account for differences in climatic conditions:

1. Hydrophobic protection by humified mature compost. The general beneficial effects of humified compost on farm productivity (increase of soil fertility status and structural stability) were evaluated in combination with its potential to sequester the hydrophilic organic compounds released in soil during crop growth (microbial activity and plant exudates) into the humified hydrophobic superstructures of compost. While compost is progressively applied to agricultural soils within organic farming practices, very few data are present in the literature up to now on its capacity for a net sequestration of organic carbon in soil. Soils under maize were treated with two rates of mature compost (10 and 20 ton ha-1 year-1) and their carbon sequestration capacity compared with that of traditional and minimum tillage practices.

2. In situ photo-polymerization of soil organic molecules by biomimetic catalysis. This process is meant to provide enhancement of chemical energy in soil organic molecules, thereby reducing the metabolic capacity of soil microbes to degrade OM. This mechanism of chemical stabilization, joint to the consequent physical inaccessibility of OM, represents a persistent fixation of organic compounds in soil. The MESCOSAGR project was intended to field prove the validity of this innovative technology in order to introduce it as a routine agronomic practice to enhance carbon sequestration in agricultural soils. This goal may not only contribute to fulfill the recommendations of the Kyoto protocol, but also suggest the agro-industry that there is a possible way to develop new eco-compatible agrochemicals to be used in the issue of carbon sequestration in agriculture.

Both these innovative soil management practices proposed in the MESCOSAGR project should have the following advantages:

• Sequester carbon more efficiently and persistently than other methods, while maintaining crop productivity and farmers income

• Efficient organic farming by recycling biomass into mature compost

• Integrate advanced science and technology into agricultural practices

• Reduce GHG emissions from agriculture

• Maintain or even improve physical, chemical, and biological quality oftreated soils

• Stimulate agrochemical technology and industry

Although the MESCOSAGR project is the first attempt of our knowledge to conjugate exogenous additions to soils with the aim of carbon sequestration and reduction of GHG, we are also aware that this will be not sufficient to promote the innovative methods to a larger scale of application. However, it is hoped that the example of MESCOSAGR will be followed by other field trails in Italy and in other countries.

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