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    Adapting to climate crisis: a drone to reduce water consumption in agricolture

    The drone hums, takes off, slowly, scattering dust and small stones around. He hoovers for a few moments, as if to weigh the flight’s conditions, then he shoots upwards, becoming a white intuition in the blue sky. From above he sees the sea touching the Gulf of Oristano, the yellow, green and brown fields of May, the tractors that move slowly along the tracks and the rectangle of young corn below. The small humming spot settles its position. It then begins to draw paths transversal to the rectangle of the crop, from the short one growing up to the diagonal and then decreasing again while it reaches the opposite intersection, as commanded in the flight plan previously drawn by Andrea Liverani, who controls the operation many meters below, next to the column of the mobile station that betters the positioning.

    "He's hesitating a bit, but it's not the wind. It's that hawk that flies around it”, explains the young professional pilot. Just a quarter of an hour and the drone grows in size and noise, lands settling in in the same dusty starting clump. The meticulous X-ray of the field has already been sent to the tablet Andrea holds in his hands. The drone houses a sensor on the top that analyzes solar radiation. On the same axis, but in the opposite part of the structure, a second sensor is inserted. Six cameras, five for the invisible and one for the visible of the multispectral analysis. “It is a young, three-week field in full development. Definitely homogeneous, it is doing quite well. Thanks to technology we can finally operate concretely for the shared good of the environment and the agricultural community", says Liverani.

    The flights set by Andrea, a 23-year-old graduated from the logistics and transport institute (and holder of the SAPR license, necessary to conduct the drones) will soon pass from the family field, not far from the Tanca Marchesa, to 50 hectares spread over the entire reclamation area of the gulf. The images that the drone is capable of capturing describe the health conditions of the cultivation, all the critical issues caused by pathogenic attacks, fertilizations and water stress. Irrigation based on such rigorous data can lead to a 30% water saving. A huge amount, especially in times of climate change. The drought that hit production between December and February is still a hurting memory in the farmers of Oristano. The Reclamation Consortium had to resort to extraordinary irrigation measures. For this reason, the MEDSEA Foundation, within the Maristanis project, has decided to finance along with Coldiretti Oristano the operation that will involve ten local companies, on which the advanced multispectral analysis will be applied weekly and subsequently transformed into monthly reports.

    "Since 2018 Coldiretti Oristano undertook a path of adaptation to climate change. In the future, agriculture will have to be resilient, or it will collapse" says Emanuele Spanò, director of Coldiretti (one of the most important Italian farmers’ association) of Oristano. Several are the productions involved in the project. Mainly corn, with seven companies. Then rice, sorghum and medical herbs. Each farm will offer 5 hectares, two hectares irrigated with the traditional method and three according to the new experimental method. Water conservation will lead not only to the protection of ecosystems, but also to substantial economic savings. “All companies responded enthusiastically to the proposal. Analyses carried out with drones offer a long-term view of the fields, it is possible to guess how long a particular type of cultivation will last over time, and plan its replacement in advance", adds Spanò.

    "Protecting the environment is fundamental for the well-being of crops and consumers. The constant photography of the fields also leads to substantial savings in the use of pesticides and fertilizers, allowing us agronomists to have rational tools for targeted and timely action. Over time, the surveys will constitute an archive that will guarantee a historical perspective of the fields, specific conditions to which we’ll answer with specific measures", explains Luigi Fantasia, the Coldiretti agronomist.

    "Reducing water consumption is one of the main goals of the Maristanis project," says Vania Statzu, environmental economist and vice president of the MEDSEA Foundation. "Working with producers and young avant-garde ideas that emerge from the territory belongs to the synergistic, choral method that Maristanis has always adopted. Wetlands are fundamental in mitigating climate change phenomena. Work and environment can, must be articulated in a sustainable development perspective. Preserving water means protecting wetlands, protecting wetlands means taking care of the human communities that dwell them".

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