ARPA Emilia-Romagna: Satellite images to forecast seasonal irrigation needs

The organisation

The Emilia-Romagna Regional Agency for Environmental Protection (ARPA Emilia-Romagna) provides technical support on environmental policy to regional and local authorities.

Its Hydro-Climate-Meteorological Service (SIMC) produces weather forecasts and analyses on climate, agriculture, water resources, environment, and others. It operates a regional hydro-meteorological gauging network and supports the Italian Civil Protection Service and the National Centre for Numerical Weather Prediction.

The challenge

In recent years, the region has been affected by droughts during summer, with negative consequences on agriculture. To optimise water use, it is important to assess the distribution of crops, since this information can be used to foresee evapotranspiration and to estimate irrigation needs.

Until 2006, the SIMC relied on assumptions on the distribution of crops to model water balance and produce forecasts of irrigation needs.

The satellite solution

Since 2007, the SIMC started experimenting with satellite-based data to assess more precisely the nature and distribution of agricultural crops on the regional plain (about 1.180.000 he). Since 2010, the SIMC uses operationally a system called iCOLT, a climate service for agriculture with specific applications in water management. The system integrates satellite data, seasonal weather forecasts and water balance predictions.

Each year, before the start of the irrigation period, the SIMC acquires three satellite images (at a cost of about €16,000 + VAT). The images, combined with field visits, are used to classify crops and to produce predictions of irrigation needs and water levels over three months.

The results

Thanks to iColt, the SIMC is able to assess irrigation needs over the whole Emilia-Romagna plain and to capture differences in culture and water availability over time. Every year, the SIMC publishes an assessment of potential irrigation needs online. This information is used by the eight irrigation consortia in Emilia-Romagna to optimise water distribution among plantations.

The regional authorities of Emilia-Romagna have recognised the iCOLT system as a strategic climate adaptation tool, by its ability to address growing uncertainties in water availability for agriculture. Currently, the SIMC is working to further improve the system within a newly funded Horizon 2020 project also involving Romanian, Moroccan and Spanish meteorological services.

 The satellite-based information enables the SIMC and the regional irrigation consortia to manage water shortages more efficiently, since it allows for an early detection of the areas under higher stressAndrea Spisni, SIMC, ARPA Emilia-Romagna