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The Good Agricultural Practices of the INSPIA project will serve to establish agro-environmental measures in the CAP

On the 12th of June, a day event was held in the field at the Cortijo Maestre (Seville) to raise awareness of the INSPIA (European Index for Sustainable Productive Agriculture) project. This project analyses the effectiveness of a series of Best Management Practices in farms across Europe. Clara Aguilera, Deputy Chairman of the European Parliament's Committee on Agriculture, participated actively in the visit, during which she affirmed that the conclusions of INSPIA will serve to establish agro-environmental measures for future revisions of the CAP. Due to the points it has in common with some of the practices implemented in the Life+ Climagri project, INSPIA considerably reinforces the results that can be achieved in terms of the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change.

Agriculture is facing considerable challenges since, as warned by the FAO, in 2050 we will need to produce 70% more food to meet the needs of a growing population. The challenge is to achieve this by making the perspective of social well-being, the protection of essential natural resources such as soil, water and biodiversity and profitability compatible so that farmers can carry out sustainable agriculture.

To show that we are capable of meeting this challenge, the INSPIA project was created, the initials of which, translated into English, explain its goal: to use scientific means to develop a European Index for Sustainable Productive Agriculture with real data gathered in the field. The INSPIA project is coordinated by the European Conservation Agriculture Federation (ECAF) and includes the participation of the French Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (IAD) and the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA). In Spain, the Spanish Association for Conservation Agriculture Living Soils (AEAC.SV) and the Business Association for the Protection of Plants (AEPLA) are the entities participating in the activities to coordinate the network of farms and train farmers and technicians.

58 farms spread across Europe

As Paula Triviño, technical project manager for the European Conservation Agriculture Federation (ECAF) explained to us: “INSPIA is a European project taking place in four very diverse countries; Spain, with 30 farms in different agroclimatic areas; France, with 24 farms; Belgium, with 3 farms; and Denmark with one. The project aims to apply a series of 15 Best Management Practices in the field dedicated, on the one hand, to the promotion of biodiversity through the improvement of habitats, the establishing of multifunctional margins and the sowing of a range of species and on the other, those aimed at protecting water quality and the conservation of soil to prevent erosion. Finally, the project also takes into account essential aspects of waste management in agricultural operations".

The most notable aspect of this project is the measurement of the effectiveness of these beneficial practices, as Emilio González, director of the AEAC.SV, tells us: "The key to INSPIA is that we measure the effectiveness of these 15 Best Management Practices in each farm using 25 indicators that are registered on a platform on the internet. Using these indicators, we have established an optimisation process which consists of creating a sustainability diagram for each agricultural campaign and using the results to reapply the most beneficial practices with improvements, which allows us to perform another analysis and produce a new, optimised diagram. Through this process, we hope to establish results the European Commission can use to quantify the improvements and incorporate them into the agricultural and environmental policies.

Clara Aguilera supports the INSPIA project

Indeed, Clara Aguilera, deputy chairwoman of the European Parliament's Committee on Agriculture, participated in the visit to Cortijo Maestre and was impressed by the techniques used on this demonstration farm: "Although it will take us some time, we need to replace conventional agriculture with these techniques, since it means a change in the agriculture model and the mentality of farmers, who we have to make see that this type of agriculture is possible, as it results in greater profitability through cost reduction and, what's more important, is enormously beneficial to society".

In statements made to Televisión Española, which covered the visit, Clara Aguilera went even further, stating that: "The results of the INSPIA project will doubtless serve to approve measures in the framework of the next CAP revision. The new CAP has already established the Greening model and future revisions must go in the direction of this type of Conservation Agriculture. These Best Management Practices projects will help us create a new regulatory model. Ecological Agriculture and Conservation Agriculture, which respect biodiversity, must be upheld as examples to follow".

For his part, Jesús A. Gil Ribes, chairman of the AEAC.SV and professor of the Higher Technical School of Agricultural and Forestry Engineering of the University of Cordoba, reiterated that in order to be real, "sustainability" had to include three aspects: "the reflection of Best Management Practices can be seen in certain indicators that are grouped into three essential categories: social, environmental and economic. It must be made very clear that all the indicators must reach certain minimums of environmental sustainability, financial profitability and contribution to society in order to really be considered sustainable".

Finally, Carlos Palomar, General Director of the Spanish Association for the Protection of Plants (AEPLA), explained the role of pesticides in sustainable agriculture: "The INSPIA project promotes the rational use of pesticides through strategies adapted to the needs of the crops and applying modern technology such as precision agriculture. We need to produce more with less and pesticides are just another tool we must use with common sense and with respect for the environment. Agriculture is key in the defence of the environment and we can produce food by following these Best Practices proposed in the INSPIA project. INSPIA also considers the importance of correct waste management during production and the effective integration thereof into recycling channels".

Cortijo Maestre, an example of Best Management Practices

The Cortijo Maestre farm is a pioneer in the implementation of the techniques of Conservation Agriculture in the management of rainfed field crops and belongs to the European network of farms included in the INSPIA project. During the field visit, the participants learnt how the farm is managed and learnt about the good practices applied.

Pedro Maestre, the farm's manager, explained the crop rotation process that takes place on the farm with grain, sunflower and legumes and how the management thereof is adapted to the conditions of the soil and crops. In addition to agronomic management with a view to the optimisation of resources and the maximisation of financial benefit, the environmental aspect and social component are also taken into account. Thus, in addition to maintaining and improving the environment close to a stream that crosses the farm, the margins of certain plots and the most susceptible paths are also maintained, with different species that improve biodiversity and avoid erosion. Channels have also been regenerated, stabilising these and implanting natural species.

In order to show the consumption of diesel oil by conventional tillage and conservation agriculture systems in an intuitive way, drums were laid out with the fuel used in each management system. Taking the experience of the European Life+ Agricarbon project as a reference, Manuel Gómez, manager of the network of farms of the AEAC.SV, informed those present that "the diesel used in conventional tillage is approximately 50l/ha, whilst direct seeding barely exceeds 20l/ha".

Various no till seeders, both grain and precision type, were also exhibited, explaining the different elements that make these up. Likewise, the technology implemented in tractors, such as automatic guidance using GPS and high flotation tyres, which make it easier for them to drive over the plots as they distribute the weight and pressure better over the soil, leaving shallower tracks and causing less surface compacting, was also highlighted.

Julio Román, technician of the "TOPPS Water Protection" project of the University of Córdoba, used a very practical demonstration to show how "runoff and erosion can be reduced by up to 90% through the use of vegetation cover and multifunctional margins which, in addition to conserving the soil, constitute a very effective strategy to favour biodiversity in agricultural operations".

More information: www.inspia-europe.eu y www.agriculturadeconservacion.org