Starter irrigation in sulla as a promising practice to climate change adaptation of Mediterranean rainfed forage systems
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Institute for the Animal Production System in Mediterranean Environment, National Research Council, Traversa La Crucca 3, 07100 Sassari, Italy
Department of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences, Polytechnic University of Marche, Via Brecce Bianche 10, 60131 Ancona, Italy
Department of Agriculture, University of Sassari, Viale Italia 39/a, 07100 Sassari, Italy
National Biodiversity Future Centre, University of Palermo, Piazza Marina 61, 90133 Palermo, Italy
Final revision date: 2023-03-09
Acceptance date: 2023-03-17
Publication date: 2023-04-28
Corresponding author
Leonardo Sulas   

Institute for the Animal Production System in Mediterranean Environment, National Research Council, Sassari, Italy
Int. Agrophys. 2023, 37(2): 159-169
  • Ongoing climate change produces altered rainfall patterns and extreme drought
  • Moistened land (starter irrigation) regularizes the vegetative regeneration in sulla
  • Starter irrigation is an effective adaptation strategy with multiple benefits
  • Net gains of forage, protein, fixed N and saved CO2 emissions are ensured
Possible climate change scenarios which are projecting altered rainfall patterns and extreme events have the potential to undermine the regeneration ability of Mediterranean rainfed forage systems. Within these systems Sulla coronaria (sulla), a much appreciated short-lived Mediterranean legume, tolerates summer drought. Under a rainfed regime, sulla plants regrow due to late summer rain in the year after sowing. The research was performed in Sardinia (Italy) in order to investigate the feasibility of starter irrigation (the land was moistened to restart vegetative regeneration in a timely manner) and to evaluate the productive, environmental and economic implications of cultivating sulla. During a severe autumn drought, the starter-irrigated vs. the rainfed crop were compared. The application of the planned starter irrigation assured a prompt plant restart and positively affected the leaf traits and crop performances. In December, leaf length and area reached 42 cm and 90 cm2, twice the level as the rainfed leaves. Forage dry matter and crude protein yields reaching 5.2 and 1 t ha-1 were 9, 8-fold higher. Additionally, seasonal net gains of 120 kg ha-1 of fixed N, 548 kg ha-1 of saved CO2 eq. emissions, and an economic gain of 881 € ha-1 were recorded. Starter irrigation acted as an effective adaptation strategy to climate change and supplied contextual, productive, environmental and economic benefits.
This work was financed by the Italian Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies, project “FOR[m]AGE, BEES and FRUITS”: bee-fruit synergies with forage farming systems in rainfed Mediterranean environment” (4APIFRUT, decree number 89233, 2019) and by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme (SOLAQUA, grant number 952879, 2020).
The authors declare no conflict of interest. Data availability statement. The data presented in this study are available on request from the authors.
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