Long-term experiments Infrastructure for Research in Agriculture


Open-air Platform

Parent institution: Università di Bologna, Padova, Perugia, Pisa, Politecnica delle Marche, Torino; CREA; Università di Firenze, Sassari and Udine
Active since 1962
Active through all year round

Fields of study

  • Environmental sciences, Pollution
  • Soil science

Contact Information

Grignani, Carlo

LIRA is a first core network of 7 sites running long-term experiments (Ancona, Bologna, Foggia, Padova, Perugia, Pisa, and Torino) and 3 modelling sites that was established as a network, and is now operating for the IC-FAR PRIN project (2012-2015; PRIN projects are funded by the Italian Ministry of University and Research through a competitive peer-reviewed call). Each site manages one or more long-term experiments. Single LTEs were started from 1962 to 2001. All are based on a plot scale (24 to 100 m2). Experimental designs are randomized blocks, or split-plots, with 3-5 replicates. Agroecosystems are conventional (6 sites) or organic (1 site). A wide part of Italian climatic and soil variability is explored.

All LTEs aim at comparing different management options of agroecosystems, at various intensification levels, to improve knowledge on long term effects of various conservation practices on the complex interactions among soil, plant and environment. The modelling part of the platform network has a wide experience in some crop system models (DSSAT; EPIC; DNDC; ROTHC; Century; CropSyst, Daisy, LEACHM, Sucros, SALUS, CSM). These are currently working together to evaluate climate change impacts on Italian cropping systems, in relation to uncertainties due to future climate and models. Based on specific case studies, data have been organized to allow a broad model utilization. Simulation models have been fed with current climate data and with future climate projections.

The Location

Country: ltaly

Latitude: from 45 21 to 41 27

Longitude: from 07 41 to 15 30

Nearest town: Torino, Padova, Bologna, Pisa, Perugia, Ancona, Foggia

Distance from neaerst town: 30 to 100 km

Relevant Research Questions

All platforms have the possibility to host researches aimed at assessing the sustainability of different cropping systems, combining rotations (of arable crops, vegetable crops, and also temporary/permanent meadows; with and without cover crops) and different types of fertilisation and amendments and tillage systems.

Sustainability is evaluated in terms of crop production and phenotyping, long-term nutrient balance, effects on water and soil (chemical, phisical and biological traits), GHG emissions, biodiversity. Results are stored in a common database. Results are used by the modelling group that aims to calibrate, validate and compare the performance of different cropping system models in Italian environments. The uncertainty analysis of the models will permit to identify the model weaknesses and possible improvements to enhance their ability to forecast the evolution of agro-ecosystems in the long run over a very broad and representative set of data from partner LTEs.


In all LTEs, treatments are compared at equilibrium, reached after several years of continuous practice, thus resulting in a varied range of soil conditions due to treatments. LTEs are a good compromise between stability and usability according to experimental goals. They are well-managed and flexible to host specific measurements and protocols. Soil and plant specimens are stored at all sites for further analyses. All LTEs are a benchmark site for local stakeholders. LTEs are already part of a well organized network.


Plots are relatively small at most sites. Few detailed continuous monitoring is performed at all LTEs. The personnel available is efficient and well trained but there should be the necessity of more human resources specifically dedicated to the facility, in particular for implementation of new methods/instruments for measurements. Some models are well established and known, while others need an upgrade.

Experimental Capabilities

Experimental Facilities

Further field plots with the same soil, lysimeters, growth chambers, runoff plots

Experiments duration: Months, Weeks, Years;

Experimental Aerea

Total area: 500000 m²

as a sum of all available areas around LTEs

Available area: 36000 m²

Experimental Unit Size

unit size: 100 m²

25-9000 depending on the site


Replicates number: 3

3-5 replicates depending on the site, randomized blocks design or split-plot design

Temporary storage

  • Dark room
  • Freezer
  • Freeze drier
  • Liquid N
  • Other
  • Refrigerator
  • Drying oven

Available Instruments

  • Closed-chamber CO2 exchange system and N2O collector
  • Soil Hydraulic properties lab
  • Leaf/canopy reflectance, SPAD
  • Soil structure (porosimetry)
  • Laser/optical granulometer
  • Leaf are index
  • Suction cup lysimeters
  • TDR and FDR
  • X-ray microCT
  • Leaf water potential

Electricity available on site.

Distance from Laboratory facilities


Years measured: various


Mean Temperature: various °C

February Mean Temperature: various °C

July Mean Temperature: various °C


Mean Annual Speed: various m/s

Max. Annual Speed: m/s

Dominant Direction: various


Total annual precipitation: various mm

Mean snow cover duration: 0 days

Soil Types

State Variables

Continuously Measured

  • Air humidity
  • Air temperature
  • Atmospheric pressure
  • Incident PAR
  • Incident shortwave radiation
  • Soil temperature
  • Soil water content

Spot Measured

  • Canopy temperature
  • Fluorescence
  • Phenology
  • Population densities
  • Species richness

Environmental Pressures

Variable Ecosystem Status
Hydro Agrosystem Active
Soileutroph Agrosystem Active
Management - Nutrients (levels or nutrient type) Agrosystem Active
Management - tilling or other physical manipulation Agrosystem Active
Management - pesticides (or other non-nutrient chemicals) Agrosystem Active
Management - conventional vs. organic or other eco-friendly practice Agrosystem Active
Management - rotation practice Agrosystem Active
Management - species and/or ecotype combinations Agrosystem Active
Management - other Agrosystem Active

On site Staff and Accomodation

Peak season staff

Up to 2 people

Off season staff

No on-site staff.

Visiting personnel

Up to 3 visitors

No beds on site

Showers on site

Showers on site

No laundry on site