The current company started as a livestock cereals company and has radically evolved over its 50-year history.
Livestock production began with dairy cows (consisting of a model herd of 200 milking cows), switching to beef cattle around 1980 (rearing circa 1,000 bullocks) and eventually converting to the current poultry farm (9,000 hens for organic egg production).
Agricultural production respects the general setup of a livestock cereal farm, consisting of autumn/winter cereal crops (common wheat, barley, oats and triticale) as the main crops, alternated with fodder crops (ryegrass, permanent meadowland) and leguminous crops (soya). The farm also cultivates numerous other trial crops such as sugar beet, sunflowers, flax, sorghum, field peas, rape and other minor crops.
Around 1990, under Council Regulation 2080, approximately 30 hectares of land were allocated for quality wood plantation (over 100,000 trees including oak, cherry, ash and hornbeam) for the production of quality timber.
Since 1980, the farm’s 100 or so hectares of coppice have been selectively cut for firewood and for the renewal of the woodland itself.
Since the installation of the biogas plant in 2010, the farm can now be defined as an Agricultural-Technological-Energy farm with widespread forestry.
The farm has always put special focus on achieving its sustainability objective, which is not always a primary concern in agricultural and livestock operations.
To this end, the business has, over the years, introduced a number of innovative products and processes that have made the farm the environmentally-sustainable operation it is today.
Its adoption of organic methods and, in part, its “eco-aware” cultivation techniques, are concrete evidence of this. Organic land is worked in an eco-friendly way using strictly organic methods that are monitored by an independent certification body, while for land cultivated with traditional methods, the farm has always sought to use low environmental impact cultivation techniques and farm equipment. Widespread use is made of minimum-tillage or sod-seeding techniques in order to reduce energy consumption, safeguard the natural activity of the soil by maintaining its natural organic processes, and reduce run-off and erosion as well as soil compaction caused by farm machinery and tractors, which are all equipped with flotation tires.
The farm has long used methods to reduce the use of chemicals such as fertilisers and pesticides, and to respect the environment and soil. Examples include proper crop rotation (alternating different crops on the same land) and the enrichment of the soil with crop residues, which provides organic matter from livestock and, more recently, digestate from the biogas plant. The impact of cultivation is further reduced by the co-existence of cultivated land and woodland/hedges and tree rows that provide a natural habitat for fauna and flora, by mechanical weed control (flame weeding) and the use of mist sprayers that enable chemicals to be used relatively effectively at lower dosages. Other measures include custom fertilisation plans for each plot of land based on a chemical analysis of its soil, band fertilisation, supervised pest control and sprinkler irrigation.
A trailblazer for environmentally-friendly practices and regulations, the farm has long been sorting its waste and sending its used oil, batteries, plastic, paper, cardboard and glass to recycling plants, as well as recovering organic waste for compost.
The current company also pays special attention to the well being of its workforce, with appropriate workplace safety plans and bespoke training courses for employees.
The company has always believed in the importance of renewable energy, going so far as to build a 180 kW photovoltaic plant and a 1 MW biogas plant. In addition to making the farm energy-independent, these installations have also turned it into a major producer of renewable energy.
Energy: photovoltaic plant
In 2008, a photovoltaic panel plant with an output of around 180 kW was installed at the company. The plant was created by replacing the original Eternit roof coverings on the livestock sheds with new insulated coverings, onto which the PV panels were fitted.
These panels cover an area in excess of 3,000 m² and are fully integrated with the roof coverings, thus enhancing both the environment and the look of the farm. Some of the electricity produced is used on the farm itself, and the rest is sold on the energy market.
The circa 216,000 kWh/year of renewable energy produced provides a significant CO2 saving (around 121 tons/year or 43 tons/year of oil equivalent) compared to the same amount of electricity produced from fossil sources.
In August 2010, the company installed a cogeneration plant for the production of biogas from biomass, with an electrical output of 1 MW. Fuelled by anaerobic digestion of biomass and livestock manure produced on-site, the plant generates approximately 8.500.000 kWh of electricity per year, all of which is fed into the national grid, meeting the annual power needs of some 10,000 people. The plant provides circa 4,700 tons of avoided CO2 emissions compared to fossil fuel use.
The plant uses innovative systems to improve its output and minimise the environmental impact of the installation. In addition to complying with all legal requirements on atmospheric and noise emissions, the biomass-to-biogas conversion process also generates around 15,000 tons/year of digestate, the by-product of the anaerobic fermentation of biomass by the mesophilic bacteria responsible for digesting the waste and producing the biogas.
This quantity of digestate almost entirely covers the farm’s needs, which means it no longer needs to purchase or use chemical fertiliser. Fertiliser spreading is carried out by pumping the digestate through a special network of pipes buried under the fields. The semi-liquid fertiliser is injected into the soil using special equipment. This technique minimises energy consumption (diesel for tractors) and soil compaction compared to traditional fertiliser spreading methods (tankers) or the use of chemical fertilisers. The same underground pipe network (circa 7 km) is used for irrigation.
The farm has also installed an underground district heating network that exploits the thermal energy derived from cooling the engine to heat a number of the farm’s residential properties, as well as all the farm structures.
In 2011, the company, as the first ENERGY INDEPENDENT FARM, concluded an innovative hydrogen production agreement with New Holland Agriculture.
Today, the majority of the farm’s agricultural products are used in the biogas production plant. Both maize and triticale are cut at wax-ripe stage and form the bulk of the material fed into the biogas digester.
In full compliance with proper crop rotation practices, the triticale harvest is followed by a second crop of maize which is sown directly into the triticale stubble using the sod-seeding or minimum-tillage technique.
Organic crops are grown on approximately 30 hectares of land allocated to organic production and provide the dry matter required for the poultry farming operation to be certified as organic (the code of practice states that at least 50% of the fodder used to feed the 9,000 hens must be produced on-site on organic land using organic production methods).
The permanent meadowland consists of around 10 hectares set aside for fodder production (hay).
The poultry sheds currently house 9,000 laying hens for organic egg production. This production method, with a target output of 9,000 organic eggs per day, is regulated by rigorous controls and a specific livestock code of practice. This set of rules establishes: a strict diet of organic and GM-free fodder, partly produced on-site; a ban on the use of drugs; a large space per hen inside the shed; 4 m² of outdoor pasture where the hen can and must roam freely; and a ban on the use of artificial light to stimulate production.
All sheds have been fitted with photovoltaic roofs, replacing the original Eternit coverings.
CROP HECTARES PRODUCTION USE
Triticale 50 Silage for Biogas
Organic crops 30 Grain for laying hens
Permanent meadowland 10 Hay
Coppice woodland 100 Firewood/timber
Timber plants 42 Timber
Farm structures 6
Uncultivated land 5
Listing agent for the US: Piero Lorenzo