93957 - Low Impact Farming

Academic Year 2023/2024

  • Moduli: Giovanni Dinelli (Modulo Mod 1) Francesco Spinelli (Modulo Mod 2)
  • Teaching Mode: Traditional lectures (Modulo Mod 1) Traditional lectures (Modulo Mod 2)
  • Campus: Bologna
  • Corso: Second cycle degree programme (LM) in Precise and Sustainable Agriculture (cod. 5705)

Learning outcomes

At course completion, the student possesses knowledge on: different low-impact cultivation techniques characteristic of different forms of organic agriculture; agro-ecological management of production systems; precision agriculture techniques to support low-impact production systems. In particular, the student possesses the skills to: organize herbaceous species cultivation plans based on business plans motivated by the principles of low impact agriculture; measure and evaluate the production performance of crops and their relative impact on the environment; recognize and correct anomalies in production performance related to plant-climate-soil interaction.

Course contents


The student who joins this course is well-prepared in the fundamentals of biology, agronomy and precision agriculture. The knowledge and skills are partly provided in the first year courses (precision agriculture), as well as by the three-year degree courses requested for the enrollment (classes L-25, L-38, L-26, L-2, L-13, L-32), where training is provided in the fields of biology and general agronomy.


MODULE 1 (Prof. Giovanni Dinelli)

Theoretical teaching unit content

The theoretical teaching unit is organized into two sections.

The first section (20 hours) deals with outlining the principle characteristics of low-impact production systems, with particular reference to organic farming. The main purpose is to introduce some basic concepts related to agroecology and to use these to better understand the complex relationships existing between agronomy and low-impact crop production systems. To start, the different types of low-impact agriculture (organic, biodynamic, permaculture, regenerative organic agriculture) and their main characteristics will be defined. Examples of distinctive, as well as common characteristics, of these systems in comparison to conventional production systems, respectively, will also then be highlighted.

The main topics covered during the development of the first section of the theoretical teaching unit include:

1) Low-impact productions: statistical aspects;

2) The different types of low-impact agriculture: history of organic farming;

3) Agroecology and plant production;

4) Management of organic matter and fertility;

5) Low-impact soil tillage;

6) Planned biodiversity: crop rotation and intercropping;

7) Structural biodiversity: ecological infrastructures and their functional roles;

8) Defense techniques with plant and non-plant remedies

9) Low-impact weed control.

The principle objective of the second section (5 hours) is to highlight the different forms of certification for low-impact production systems. This will also involve exploring market aspects and market-related problems.

The main topics covered during the second section of the theoretical teaching unit include:

10) Quality labels;

11) The certification systems of organic products.

Practical teaching unit content

The practical teaching unit consists of visits to low-impact production farms (organic, biodynamic and permaculture farms) in order to expand the information acquired in the theoretical lessons to practical knowledge.

MODULE 2 (Prof. Francesco Spinelli)

Frontal lessons (18 hours)

The biological interactions occurring in the agricultural ecosystem and on the methods to influence them in order to maximizing production efficiency and fruit quality. The basic concepts of agroecology will be introduced (e.g. biodiversity, resistance, resilience, …). The course will also focus on a holistic approach to manage the ecological interactions occurring between the plant and other organisms, human included, and on their effects on plant productivity and crop quality. The main topics the course will deal with are:

  1. Overview of plant ecology and agroecosystem, 2 hours
  2. Organisms in their Environments: the Evolutionary Backdrop, Conditions, Resources, 1 hours
  3. The concept of niche, carrying capacity and constant yield: their application in the orchard management, 1hours
  4. Communities and Ecosystems, Ecological Interactions and Species Interactions in the agroecosystem, 2 hours
  5. Ecological Applications: Management of plant ecological interactions to maximize the efficiency of cultural management practices. 12 hours

Lab Experiences and Practical Activities (12 hours)

Exploiting the knowledge on plant ecological interactions (competition, symbiosis, predation/parasitism) for practical management:

  1. Methods for studying plant ecological interactions at lab scale. 4 hours
  2. Selection of biological control agents against plant disease (competition, symbiosis). 4 hours
  3. Selection of possible crop biostimulant organisms (i.e. other plants) (symbiosis). 4 hours



MODULE 1 (Prof. Giovanni Dinelli)

To prepare for the exam, students must use the material distributed by the lecturer, which is made available online at the end of the lessons in the form of a handout, as well as any notes taken in class. For any further information and clarification, the following texts are suggested:

Sarath Chandran Unni M.R. Sabu Thomas, Organic Farming: Global Perspectives and Methods, Woodhead Publishing (2018)

Allen V. Barker, Science and Technology of Organic Farming (2nd Edition), CRC Press

MODULE 2 (Prof. Francesco Spinelli)

Selected chapters from:

Connor D.J., Loomis R.S., Cassman K.G. Crop Ecology - Productivity and Management in Agricultural Systems (2nd Ed). Cambridge University Press (2012). ISBN-10: 1139170163


Taiz L. e Pointer E. Plant Physiology, 5th Edition ISBN-10: 0878938664 Edizione: Fifth

Chapin III S.F., Matson P.A., Mooney H.A.. Principles of Terrestrial Ecosystem Ecology. Springer, 2011

Begon M., Colin R. Townsend C.R. Harper J.L. Ecology: From Individuals to Ecosystems. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN: 978-1-405-11117-1

Handouts and selected papers

Teaching methods

MODULE 1 (Prof. Giovanni Dinelli)

The theoretical modules consist of lectures accompanied by class discussions involving the students, in order to provide training in the concepts of low-impact agriculture, applied agroecology, and agronomy of arable agricultural productions. The practical activities consist of visits to farming enterprises, for a total of 2 visits of 2.5 hours, aimed at providing a practical viewpoint of concepts presented in the classroom lessons.


MODULE 2 (Prof. Francesco Spinelli)

Lectures, seminars, visit to orchards and processing plants. Seminars by experts. Seminars by students. Problem-solving activities in which students are asked to deal independently with a practical or research related problem similar to the "case of study" covered by the course. Laboratory and practical experiences

Assessment methods

MODULE 1 (Prof. Giovanni Dinelli)

The teaching forms part of the Integrated Course “LOW IMPACT FARMING (65943)”. Therefore, the evaluation of the integrated course jointly takes into account the level of knowledge and skills acquired by the student in relation to all of the teaching content.

Verification of learning takes place only through the final exam, which ascertains the acquisition of the expected knowledge and skills. The knowledge and skills imparted by this course are assessed through a written exam lasting 2 hours, without the assistence of notes or books, and is not followed by an oral test. The test includes only open answers, for a total of 12 questions.


MODULE 2 (Prof. Francesco Spinelli)

Oral exam or review prepared by the student on a specific topic of the course.

  1. Oral exam. For each module, the exam will consist on 3 questions, accounting for 10 points each. One of the question can be a problem solving activity related to case studies debated during the course. The question may include also the laboratory and practical experiences.
  2. Review. The student can prepare a manuscript and/or a seminar on a topic chosen in agreement with the professor. The subject must be related with a specific topic of the course and should review the state-of-the art on that topic. The student will be guided, step-by-step, in the preparation of the elaborate and additional material will be provided to the student to achieve this goal. An example of the review prepared by student is published here: http://www.intechopen.com/books/abiotic-stress-in-plants-mechanisms-and-adaptations/emission-and-function-of-volatile-organic-compounds-in-response-to-abiotic-stress

Each Author was involved in a specific chapter of the review

During students presentations the teacher stimulate the discussion regarding major problems relative to Horticulture situation (point of strength and weakness) related and specific to the different geographical areas of student’s provenience

Teaching tools

PC, Video projector, interactive communication systems (Wooclap, Menitmeter), laboratories, experimental fields

Office hours

See the website of Giovanni Dinelli

See the website of Francesco Spinelli


Responsible consumption and production Climate Action Life on land

This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.