Hunger for horticulture …

High specialization, high productivity, high standardization of the production. Nothing seems to be actually missing in the horticulture sector. Yet, maybe it’s not what it looks like. The path undertaken by this sector, one of the richest sectors of Italian agriculture, is now revealing its limitations,
due to the oversimplification and standardization of the production cycles.
Any problem that may occur, is usually solved with a quick and effective remedy, best if it consists in an active substance to be spread on the cultivation. However, besides being very expensive, these corrective actions don’t always work, and the annual business balance will eventually be less than expected. Furthermore, food production is an art that is hard to reconcile with planned solutions for cultivation or with simple maximization of quantity.
To produce food requires to know the growing environment, the crops to be cultivated, the target markets. Environment, culture and market are also the three magic words of the Precision Agriculture (PA). And it is exactly the PA that can lead the horticultural firms to reduce waste, to avoid environmental imbalances and to relate more effectively to the market.
FAO has launched a campaign to invite the farmers to produce more from less.
Less consumer products, less fertilizers and crop protection products, more investment in technologies that can be reused, equipment and facilities, genetics.
The PA offers several options; they are not always based on geolocation, but they are constantly oriented to analyze and exploit the available information about environment, cultivation and market. The horticulturalist will be able to choose the technological solutions that best suit his local context, his production cycle and his culture.
The logical consequence of this technological path will be the introduction of crop rotations, green manure, propulsion systems that do not compact the soil, new cultures. The objectives evidence provided by the PA, will allow to assess the impact of the management model.
Actually, it has been just the lack of objective data and suitable assessment methods that allowed to overlook the abovementioned sustainable, agronomic (and very important) practices, the advantages of which did not seem to affect the economic performance.
The high tech horticulture equipment placed on the market by the Italian manufacturers, opens up the possibility of implementing the PA with low investments as it is alreadyset up for interfacing with advanced management models.
In fact, Italian equipment, but not only that, is already fitted with electronically controlled devices that modify sowing distance along the row, devices for the recovery of the automatic and semi-automatic failed plantations, vision systems for the identification of the row or also of the single grown plant in order to allow a biological control of the weeds, working depth detected by sensors connected to automatic devices for the adjustment of the equipment, devices to make perfectly flat flowerbeds, devices for precise sowing and transplanting on mulching films, automatic devices to adjust to the millimeter the cutting height of the harvesters, and many other mechatronic solutions useful today and essential in future.
The use of technology in horticulture can therefore act as a virtuous unifying agent between production specialization and protection of the cultivation environment, between productivity and production costs, between standardization of production and quality of food, between offered and demanded product.
Not everything must be excellent, but everything can be good and technology enables us to reach this aim in a sustainable way.

Lorenzo Benvenuti

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