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DISPAA Dipartimento di Scienze delle Produzioni Agroalimentari e dell'Ambiente

Montepaldi Long Term Experiment

Long-term comparison of various management systems in the Montepaldi experimental farm (Florence, ITALY)

Italian version

In 1985 Prof. Vazzana joined the IOLBC international group studies for low input agricultural systems and proposed to build an experimental system to test research activities. In 1989 after an agreement between the Montepaldi farms, experimental sites of the University of Florence, and the Department of Agronomy and Land Management, an area of about 15 ha was established in order to start the comparison systems.

In 1991 began a research activities, financed by a European project (CAMAR), with the aim of comparing the performances of three systems: Conventional, Integrated and Organic.

From 1993 until 1998 the European Union financed a “Research Network for the EU and Associated Countries on Integrated and Ecological Arable Farming Systems (I/E AFS)” coordinated by P.Verejiken from CABO-Wageningen (NL). This network developed a common approach in “five steps” for the design and management of “Integrated” and “Ecological (organic)” agroecosystems. The result of this concerted action, in which 25 research teams from 15 countries participated, including the DISAT experience at Montepaldi, has been reported in four Progress Reports and in a Manual (Vereijken 1994; Vereijken 1995; Vereijken 1996, Vereijken 1998; Vereijken 1999).

After that, the Montepaldi experiment has been supported by other regional and national research project (AGRIBIO-ARSIA, SIMBIOVEG-FISR) that have developed part of their activity within this research area.

This experiment is unique in Tuscany and in Italy and over all the Mediterranean area for its duration period and quantity of data collected and results.

The complex performance of the three micro-farms have been described and monitored over 15 years and it is possible to understand the long term process and to verify the sustainability of the agricultural systems.

Settled and balanced agroecosystems show clear characteristics and results are not equal to those for young systems, where self regulation processes are not well established.

Presently, the Montepaldi experience is part of the LTE (Long Term Experiment) group of the International Society of Organic Farming Research (ISOFAR).

From this kind of experiment is possible to evaluate in the long term management systems alternative to the conventional one in order to evaluate sustainability both form environmental-ecologic and socio-economic aspects.

This experiment has played an important role for the academic teaching activities: at Montepaldi, undergraduate students in Agricultural Science and Technology are involved in practicals; many students have carried out their degree thesis, some of them honoured by awards (3 Scaravelli award on organic agriculture research and 1 ARVAN award about organic fertilizers) and some PhD thesis
Since 2001, also the students form the Master Course on Ecological Agriculture have been involved in practical and theory on  Montepaldi experience.


 Description of the experimental site

MoLTE is part of the experimental farm of Florence University, which is located in Montepaldi, San Casciano Val di Pesa, Tuscany, Central Italy, and it covers an area of about 15 ha, in a lightly slopped area, 90 m asl. The whole MoLTE experimental site is divided in ten fields of around 1,3 ha each (~260X50m).

Fig.1. Aerial view of the experimental site. Google Maps.


Context and characteristics

Montepaldi is located in the Chianti Fiorentino area, where the main agricultural activity revolves around the production of wine. This is due to the combination of many factors including landscape structure, climate and soil quality, which make this area suitable for growing vineyard. This specific region has a relatively homogeneous landscape characterized by lower hills in the central-west part and mountains in the eastern part. The hilly sector is crossed by Greve, Ambra and Pesa rivers. Next to the vineyards, wood of oaks is also very common in this sub-region (Provincia di Firenze, 2013).

The climatic conditions of the experimental area are typical of the Mediterranean sub-Apennine zone, characterized by hot, dry summers and mild to cool, wet winters and an annual rainfall of about 770 mm per year with its maximum in autumn and spring and minimum in June and August (Gasith et al.,1999). The annual mean temperature is 14.1°C with the highest peak in summer (even more than 30 °C) and the lowest in January.

The MoLTE experimental site is circumscribed by many different landscape elements. For instance, a 25 m wide grassland (northeast part), a thick hedgerow of spontaneous species (northwest border) separates the experimental site from the neighbor’s field, while spontaneous herbaceous species and trees occupy the southeast border.

The MoLTE soil is composed of parent rock material derived from Pliocene sediments (slopes) and river Pesa fluvial deposits from the Holocene (plane), classified as Fluventic Xerochrepts. Based on the texture, this soil can be classified in between silty clay loam and clay loam with widespread gravel.



Fig. 2: Panoramic view of the experimental site.



 Structure of the experimental site

The experimental site is composed by three differently managed systems, designed with the purpose of comparing organic and conventional management. There are two organic managed systems called “Old Organic” (OO) and “New Organic” (NO) and one “Conventional” system (CO) (Fig. 3).

Both the two organic fields extend for about 5,2 hectares divided in 4 rectangular fields with a different crop in each one. The same 4 arable crops are grown in the two organic systems, and the same management techniques are applied. The two organic systems differ between each other in the time they were converted into organic. The Old Organic section has been converted into organic in 1991 (EC reg. 2092/91 and following regulations), while the New Organic has been managed under EC regulations 2078/92 (integrated farming) from 1992-2000 and converted into organic management in 2001. The Conventional system consists of 2.6 ha including two fields (Fig. 3).


Fig. 3:

Scheme of the experimental site with the three management systems (OO, NO, CO)
along with semi-natural areas (LTE MOLTE)

Sub-agroecosystems are bordered by semi-natural habitats composed by both artificial and spontaneous species. In particular, the New Organic and the Old Organic systems are physically separated by a natural hedge (260X3m) consisting of both woody, shrubs and herbaceous species (Fig. 4).

Fig. 4: Some autochthons species found in experimental site.


The extreme field margin of the conventional field (east side) consists of a flower strip which separates the experimental field from the rest of the countryside (Fig. 5, right side). On the other side (west side) of the conventional field, a strip of spontaneous bushes and grass separates the conventional from the new organic field.

Fig. 5: Left side: Hedgerow which borders the old organic system; Right side: Strip at the west side of the conventional system.


Management of the experimental site: rotation and cultural practices

The number of fields for each of the three systems depends on the rotation scheme. The two organic systems operate on a 4-year rotation including Maize/Sunflower – Legume -Wheat/Barley – Legume, while for the conventional one a two-year crop rotation is used in which Maize/ Sunflower follows Wheat/ Barley (Table 1).

The criteria used to establish the crops to include in the rotation are based on soil and nutrient requirements. Legumes are alternated with high-nutrients demanding crops.

Cultural practices are different in the organic and conventional system. The main difference between the two systems concerns the fertilization and the weed management. In the conventional fields nitrogen and phosphorous are applied by synthetic-chemical fertilizers while in the two organic systems the nutrients necessary are supplied by legumes included in the rotation.

In the same way, in the OO and NO systems weeds are controlled by an appropriate rotation and only occasionally weed hoeing and false beds for maize and sunflower crops. In the CO fields herbicides are applied after the sowing.


 Current project

Fig. 6: Current layout of the experiment


The new European project "FertilCrop", started in 2015, will last for three years. The overall aim of FertilCrop is to develop efficient and sustainable management techniques aimed at increasing crop productivity in organic farming systems.

To achieve this, the mutual interactions of crop plants with weeds and co-cultivated plants, with soil macro and micro-organisms in their physically and chemically determined environment influencing C and N pools and fluxes as well as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will be studied. Top soil layers with increased fertility supporting crop growth may result from reduced soil tillage, increased inputs of organic matter, green manures, and animal manures, and often they are found in orchards and vineyards that are tilled only superficially.

Twenty field experiments along a South West to North East transect across Europe on fertility inputs such as green manure and animal manure, on soil tillage and crop rotations, and on whole farming systems provide historical data on crop and soil performance built into a database. These will be related to new data from case studies on weed dynamics, macro-organisms and their influence on soil structure, the community and function of soil microorganisms, and the dynamics of C and N pools and fluxes. Historical and new data will be used to calibrate C and N models and to feed on-farm prototyping exercises and to assist with management decisions and strategic fertility planning in cooperation with farmers. All work packages will produce inputs to developing simple science based tools for practical applications.

The specific objectives of FertilCrop are:

  1. to investigate the interaction of weeds, green manures, and crops in time and space.
  2. to evaluate the modulating role of soil structure and porosity in stratified soil layers on crop and root growth, nutrient uptake and losses as well as aeration.
  3. to identify, analyse and improve the understanding of plant-microbe interactions in stratified soils.
  4. to quantify and review changes in C and N stocks and the dynamics of fluxes.
  5. to calibrate existing models on C and N dynamics and crop growth for fertility building practices.
  6. to parameterise a strategic planning model for crop rotations with respect to fertility management.
  7. to develop and test with farmers tools and approaches to aid recognition of soil fertility.

Hypotheses: interactions of crops with weeds, soil organisms and green manures in organic conservation agriculture systems will improve soil structure and nutrient use efficiency, reduce losses, and stabilise crop yields.

Soils with more stratified organic matter, porosity, and biological activity, such as those under reduced soil tillage, provide fertile topsoil layers that are more favourable to crop growth than ploughed soils.

Models simulating cropping system effects on the soil C and N cycle help improving farm level decisions and soil fertility planning, if co-developed by researchers, advisors and farmers.

Participatory prototyping of systems permits farmers to learn about research innovations and researchers to reflect on the adaptability of their scientific findings to real farm conditions.

Table 1. Experimental period and research characteristic of the studied site


1992 - 2000

2001 - 2004

2005 - 2008




EU Network (I/EAFS)





Agro eco Systems

Ecological/Integrated/ Conventional

Old Organic/New Organic/Conventional

Crop rotation

E1/I2: sunflower-field bean-wheat (or barley)-annual clover
C3: sunflower-wheat (or barley)

O4: green manure+corn-field bean-barley- clover
C: corn-barley

O: green manure+corn-field bean-hard wheat- clover
C: corn-hard wheat

O: sunflower-lentil-barley-chickpea
C: sunflower-barley

Selected results

Product quality,
Soil organic matter, N, P,
Energy input and output,

Soil organic, matter, N, P,
Biodiversity, Spade test, Penetration resistance, Bulk density, Earthworms, Mycorrhizal diversity

1 Ecological; 2Integrated; 3Conventional; 4Organic (Old and New)

Table 1. Experimental period and research characteristic



Prof.ssa Concetta Vazzana

Prof. Gaio Cesare Pacini

Dott.ssa Margherita Santoni

Giovanna Casella

Roberto Vivoli


Publication List MoLTE:

Peer reviewed journals:
  • Lazzerini, G., Migliorini, P., Moschini, V., Pacini, C., Merante, P., Vazzana, C. (2014)A semplified method to asses carbon balance in agriculture. An example of application in organic and conventional micro-agroecosystems from a Long Term Experiment in Tuscany, Italy. Italian Journal of Agronomy, in press.
  • Migliorini, P., Moschini, V., Tittarelli, F., Ciaccia, C., Benedettelli, S., Vazzana, C., Canali, S. (2014) Agronomic performance, carbon storage and nitrogen utilisation of long-term organic and conventional stockless arable systems in Mediterranean area. European Journal of Agronomy, 52: 138-145.
  • Simoni, S., Nannelli, R., Castagnoli, M., Goggioli, D., Moschini, V., Vazzana, C., Benedettelli, S., Migliorini, P. (2013) Abundace and biodiversity of soil arthropods in one conventional and two organic fields of maize in stockless arable systems. Redia – Journal of Zoology, 46: 37-44.
  • Bedini, S., Avio, L., Sbrana, C., Turrini, A., Migliorini, P., Vazzana, C., Giovannetti, M. (2013) Mycorrhizal activity and diversity in a long-term organic Mediterranean agroecosystem. Biol Fertil Soils, 49: 781–790.
  • Moschini, V., Migliorini, P., Sacchetti, P., Casella, G., Vazzana, C. (2012)Presence of aphid predators in common wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) in organic and conventional agroecosystems of Tuscany. New Medit vol. XI - n. 4/2012 Special Issue, pp. 57-60.
  • Migliorini, P., Vazzana, C., Moschini, V. (2009) Valutazione della fertilità del suolo in aziende sperimentali e commerciali biologiche in Toscana. Proceedings  XXXVIII Convegno Nazionale della Società Italiana di Agronomia, pp. 387- 388.
  • Migliorini, P., Vazzana, C., Moschini, V. (2008) Effect of green manure on weeds and soil fertility in two organic experimental agroecosystems of different ages. Results from 2 years. ISOFAR International Scientific Conference, 16th IFOAM Organic World Congress, Modena, Italy, June 16-20, 2008, pp. 380-383. Available from:
  • Vazzana, C., Raso, E., Migliorini, P. (2008). Sustainability evaluation of long term organic farm systems. In: proceeding of the ISOFAR International Scientific Conference, 16th IFOAM Organic World Congress, Modena, Italy,. Modena, June 16-20 2008, vol. 2, p. 700-703, ISOFAR, ISBN: 978-3-03736-023-1
  • Migliorini, P., Vazzana,C., 2007. Biodiversity Indicators for sustainability evaluation of conventional and organic agro-ecosystems. Ital.J.Agron. 2(2),105–110.
  • Migliorini, P., Tropea, F., Vazzana, C. (2005). Efficiency of organic fertilizer on Corn production and the influence of organic farming systems on soil fertility and weed biodiversity. In: Atti della Conferenza internazionale di IFOAM AgriBioMediterraneo aprile 2005 Ohrid, Macedonia. Ohrid, Macedonia, aprile 2005, ECOLIBURNIA
  • Vereijken, P., (1999). Manual for Prototyping Integrated and Ecological Arable Farming Systems (I/EAFS) in Interaction with Pilot Farms. AB-DLO, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
  • Vazzana, C., Raso,E., Pieri,S. (1997). Una nuova metodologia europea per la progettazione e gestione di agro ecosistemi integrati ed ecologici:applicazione in un’area agricola toscana. Rivista Agron. 31(2), 423–440.
  • Vereijken, P., (1994). Designing Prototypes. Progress Report 1 of the Research Network on Integrated and Ecological Arable Farming System for EU and Associated Countries. AB-DLO, Wageningen, The Netherlands, 90pp.
  • Vereijken, P., (1997). A methodical way of prototyping integrated and ecological arable farming systems (I/EAFS) in interaction with pilot farms. Eur.J.Agron.7, 235–250.


Dissemination journals

  • Raso, E., Vazzana, C., Benedettelli, S., Pacini, G.C., Napoli, M., Casella, G., Vivoli, R., 2015. Bulatura di medica nel grano: pratica utile in biologico. INFORMATORE AGRARIO. 37, 41-45, ISSN: 0020-0689.
  • Raso, E., Vivoli, R., Casella, G., Moschini, V., Vazzana, C. (2011) Trasemina di erba medica ottima nel grano duro bio. L’Informatore Agrario n. 27, 8-14 luglio 2011, pp. 47-49.
  • Vazzana, C., Raso, E., Vivoli, R., Casella, G., Moschini, V. (2008) Controllare le infestanti con l’erpice strigliatore. n.2 AzBio marzo-aprile 2008, Edagricole, Milano, pp.48-49.
last update: 11-Oct-2016
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