Land Use

Nearly one-third of terrestrial lands have agricultural crops or planted pastures as a dominant land use (accounting for at least 30 % of total area), thus having a profound ecological effect on the whole landscape (Scherr and McNeely 2008). According to the Eco-indicator 99 methodology of LCA procedure (PRe´ Consultants), land or occupation of land is considered an important impact category. This parameter showed a heavy impact when considering extensive farming systems, such as Podolian system (Roma et al. 2009). Although LCA software programmes accurately take into account the appropriate datasets, land use impact evaluation should also take into account the quality of the lands used as pasture that in the Podolian system are marginal (upland and of low fertility); therefore, this farming system may represent a tool to maintain an economically active social community in these areas. As no realistic alternative to this production system exists, these lands would risk desertification. Conversely, the husbandry of these cattle shows a number of positive environmental effects, such as increased climate stability, improved soil functionality, water quality and footprint and preservation from fires. In addition, positive social and cultural functions, such as labour, touristic activities and production of typical products directly linked to the area, are also promoted.

As for climate stability, permanent grasslands store nearly as much carbon as forests (EIP-AGRI2014). Carbon sequestration potential of permanent pastures was estimated between 0.01 and 0.3 Gt (gross tonnes of volume) C year-1 (Lal 2004). In addition, a number of management practices, such as maintenance of permanent grassland, adequate grazing pressure, cutting and haymaking, manure application and reduction of tillage, may enhance C sequestration (Lugato and Berti 2008) and decrease rather than increase N2O emissions (Wolf et al. 2010).

Soil functionality, in terms of good structure, sufficient organic matter and resilience to erosion by wind or water, may be improved by the manure of grazing animals, which represents the most important source of nutrients, and organic matter. When deposited directly on pastures and fields, manure does not increase significantly the amount of methane (Bernue´s et al. 2011).

Intensive rearing systems show a high water footprint (Steinfeld et al. 2006; Hoekstra and Chapagain 2007) in terms of water use (e.g. water embedded in feed production and farming practices and drunk by animals) and water quality (i.e. pollution due to mismanagement of manure, antibiotics and agrochemicals). On the contrary, water-related problems are comparatively irrelevant in low-input systems based on grazing at low stocking densities and on utilisation of local natural resources.

According to de Groot et al. (2002), economic evaluation of these ecosystem services may be indirectly performed by the avoided costs that would have incurred in the absence of these services. Examples are wildfire prevention practices (e.g. cleaning, cutting and partial deforestation) that have relevant costs in terms of human labour and environmental impact or fertilisation and agricultural practices to avoid desertification.

The new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) introduces a mandatory “greening” component of direct payments for the enhancement of environmental performance (Regulation EU No 1307/2013). Member States should use part of their national ceilings for direct payments in order to grant an annual payment for compulsory practices linked to agriculture, such as crop diversification, the maintenance of permanent grassland and the establishment of ecological focus areas. Regarding permanent grassland, among other aspects, Member States shall ensure that the ratio of areas of permanent grassland to the total agricultural area declared by the farmers will not decrease by more than 5 % compared to a reference ratio to be established by Member States in 2015.

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