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Cooperation Project (CARTER) in Italy

January, 2019 to June, 2022
CARTER is the acronym of a Cooperation project funded by the Rural Development Program of the Veneto Region 2014-2020. The full project title is “Biochar and new forest plantation areas: a winning combination for the soil carbon conservation and sequestration”.
CARTER faced two main problems: the loss of soil organic matter in agricultural land and the scarce availability of poplar timber on the Italian market. CARTER made use of the funding from the Veneto RDP 2014-2020 provided for by the Measures 16.1.1 and 16.2.1, allowing the creation of the Operational Group (GO), and the Measures 8.1. 1 and 8.2.1, for the establishment of new poplar plantations, including agroforestry systems, and using the new Italian MSA poplar clones.   
CARTER Partners. 13 farms, planting 60 ha of poplar plantations in Veneto Region; 1 farmer association (Confagricoltura Veneto), leading the project; 3 research institutions (CNR IRET; CREA Forests-Wood; DAFNE Univ. of Tuscia); and  PEFC Italia for forest-wood certification. 
MSA clones. MSA (Greater Environmental Sustainability) poplar clones played an important role in the project. Thanks to their resistance to the main leaf diseases, they require fewer phytosanitary treatments  with consequent economic and environmental benefits, in addition to higher timber yield. However, the MSA clones present two critical issues: i) pruning, which has been reported by poplar growers as difficult and expensive, requiring frequent interventions; ii) the lack of knowledge of the product by the plywood companies (we are at the first harvesting of poplar plantations with MSA clones and therefore the market is being defined).
Certification. The new PEFC ITA 1004 and PEFC ITA 1004-1 standards allow the certification of poplar plantations, as well other types of forest plantations. The project made it possible to evaluate which procedures can be implemented by the GO farms to improve their environmental performance and thus access the certification of sustainable plantation management. With PEFC certification, it is possible to access the voluntary carbon credit market, creating an additional activity for farms. CARTER also made it possible to identify potential credit buyers (local and otherwise) interested in mitigating  their Global Changes impact through the financing of forest practices.
Agroforestry systems. Agroforestry is a cultivation model capable of combining environmental sustainability and production efficiency, therefore in line with the new challenges related to the increase in the world population and climate change. MSA poplar clones can play an important role in agroforestry, with an optimum density of 20-30 adult trees per hectare in 10 years. Carter identified two main aspects of this cultivation model with MSA poplar clones: i) higher productivity compared to specialized plantations (+50%); ii) lack of knowledge of the pruning techniques to be adopted.
CARTER has developed a prototype for the field production of biochar, starting from harvesting waste of poplar plantations. This prototype allows the processing of about 250-600 kg of wood material (depending on the species, size, humidity), obtaining a yield from 25 to 39%. From the chemical analyses it emerged that poplar biochar is an excellent product and, if applied to soils, helps to improve its chemical-physical qualities. 
CARTER closed in June 2022, with 2 events, a final public conference, and field visits with stakeholders, in collaboration with  National Rural Network- Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies. Reactions of project partners and events participants were very positive, especially visiting Casaria Farm, with the 8-years old poplar agroforestry system, approaching its harvesting time. It is advisable a prosecution of the project within the next CAP.   
Picture 1: The CARTER prototype, developed by DAFNE Univ. of Tuscia, for on site biochar production
Picture 2: June 2022. Project partners and stakeholders at Casaria farm, with agroforestry systems with 8 years old poplar trees planted along drainage ditches.