THE their fields produce corn and wheat, their animals meat, milk and cheese. But both of them also produce renewable and zero-kilometer energy. This is the challenge of clean sources, taken up by some agricultural entrepreneurs who have installed systems for the production of hundreds of kWh per hour on their land and on the roofs of their stables. To be used for the company itself but above all to be sold and networked.
“Women are the most attentive to sustainability because they are multifunctional in their DNA”, assures Alessandra Oddi Baglioni, president of Confagricoltura Donna: “They clearly see how their business, essentially agricultural, can also be something else”.
And they launch themselves, seizing the moment and accepting the risk: «They are not afraid to innovate: basically they are used to planning and taking care of the present while looking to the future. They do it for their fields as they could do it for their children ». Based on Istat data (which promoted the “Women and sustainability” Award), they are particularly adept at diversifyingand for this reason they are also present in activities related to agricultural production, from agritourism to educational farms. Two thirds of graduates, many under 35, are 32% of the total number of agricultural entrepreneurs in Italy, more numerous than in the rest of the EU (the average is 27%).
Francesca Picasso (Lombardy), renewable energy from biogas
Profitability, ecology and a look to the future: these are the three reasons that led Francesca Picasso, 44, with a degree in Agricultural and Forestry Sciences and Technologies and two teenage children, to invest, for his company in San Daniele Po (CR), in a biogas plant that produces renewable energy from cereals. “With my family in 2011 I made this choice, which at first was very onerous,” says Picasso. “It was a six-figure investment, really expensive, but thanks to the support of Sebigas, the company that built our plant and the state incentives of the GSE (Energy Services Manager), we were able to put renewable energy on the grid at prices convenient “.
The plant, powered with approx 45 tons of ensiled cereals per day, produces 999kWh in a continuous cycle (we consider that a typical family consumes about 2,700 kWh per year). “Many criticize this type of plant that operates using agricultural products,” admits Picasso. “But I was struggling to sell my grains as such while the renewable energy that I produce thanks to them is an invaluable resource, which not only guarantees the autonomy of my company but, to some extent, can contribute to the independence of the whole of Italy. Today more than ever it is a strategic sector to which a future can be guaranteed ».
Circular economy and new jobs
Not only that, biogas also has positive repercussions on the related industries: in San Daniele Po, as in the entire Po Valley where there are now about 2000 biogas plants, a new economic system and new jobs.
But the soul of the entrepreneur coexists, in Francesca Picasso, with that of the agronomist: «Our land has taken millions of years to produce the carbon reserves in the subsoil that we are running out so quickly», she explains. «I want to act to reverse this process; to restore, in my small way, a balance ».
Its crops capture carbon when they grow and produce clean energy in the biogas plant. “In addition to this, iThe fermented product that comes out of the digester after the transformation of maize and wheat into energy is an excellent natural fertilizer, thanks to which it is possible to significantly reduce chemical fertilizers“. And the circle closes. He says it bluntly: “For my lands I have an attention that is no exaggeration to define maternal: they are alive, if cared for and fed every day, they produce wonderful plants and give great satisfaction”.
Paola Butali (Umbria): art, cows and… renewable energy
«I must have inherited the innovative spirit of my father, who was one of the founders of Euronics. I express that spirit by raising cows », Paola Butali minimizes. Born in ’57, with a degree in Art History, two children, he is the owner of the La Cerreta farm and holiday farm in Castiglione del Lago (Pg). On the roof of the barn that houses its 330 Friesian dairy cows, fed with fodder grown on the farm, there is a photovoltaic system. While a biodigester is fed, as well as with ensiled cereals from secondary local crops, with their own manure and with that of a pig farm on the neighboring farm. Not only do these wastes avoid polluting the aquifers but are used to produce renewable energy. Also, the implants allow to reduce by 25 times the CO2 emitted naturally by wastewater.
“In the beginning we were pioneers and they accused us of polluting”
“In the beginning we took the risk, as all entrepreneurs are used to doing. But we were accused of polluting, while it is exactly the opposite ”, recalls Butali. “At first it was taboo to even use digestate as a fertilizer, today everyone asks for it.” Fortunately, the benefits in economic terms did not take long to arrive. For the Butali family, thanks to state incentives that made it possible to sell renewable energy at profitable prices, but also for the supply, chemical management and maintenance of the biogas plant, all new employees hired thanks to the new course. «When there was a crisis in the price of milk, the plants were our salvation. As I am today ».
The echo of the war in Ukraine? Here you can hear it, and it is a very strong echo
The company, on the hills of Lake Trasimeno, is a place of peace: from here the war seems very far away. «But it is not like that. Those who have a farm feel the echo first of all: the raw materials to feed the cows do not arrive, we have to make do, if we did not have the production of renewable energy we would already be finished“. Four thousand organic olive trees, vineyards, two villas to welcome those who want to stop, La Cerreta also hosts a series of works of art, which Butali, as an expert, chooses personally to be integrated with the landscape. Culture and nature thus interact thanks to a very feminine surplus of sensitivity. And the murals on the external walls of the biogas plant and the barn are the gateway to the artistic path that winds, without tears, between villas and vineyards.
Emanuela Morello (Sicily): “Environmental education is a daily practice”
Devotion, passion and the ability to pass it on. Emanuela Morello, 55, is a Sicilian agricultural entrepreneur who believes in her territory and in the value of her business: “We put the photovoltaic system on the roof of the stables and barn first of all to reclaim them, they were in asbestos”. The company consumes 10kWh of the 110kWh plant and the rest is sold. “The panels naturally bring us economic advantages: we are entrepreneurs, not benefactors. But they also give us the opportunity to participate in collective well-being“. In Emanuela’s two companies – inherited from her mother, at a distance of 70 km from each other, one in the area between Corleone and Campofiorito (Pa), the other between Alia and Vicari (Pa) – innovation and sustainability are the principles pivotal, lived in everyday life and told to school children who come to visit.
The educational farm, the B&B and the daily effort
“Thanks to the educational farm project, we prepare for the future, practically educating to respect for the environment“, explains. “We educate children but also the people who work in the company and in general we promote a new, more respectful culture of the territory”. Graduated in agriculture, after four years of work at Telespazio, a leading company in the field of satellite services, Morello has decided to return to earth and to earth and devote herself completely to the management of the family business. Redevelop the olive groves eliminating the use of chemical additives, directs the production of cereals towards a short supply chain, tries to improve the animal husbandry supply chain of the island by selecting an Italian beef breed and opened also a small b & b (“Only 12 beds, and I cook”).
Climate, enemy or ally?
But the heart of his enterprise remains the land. «It’s not like making bolts: you propose to make a thousand and a thousand make of them. We have no roofs over our heads or nets to protect us. If it hasn’t rained for two months, like this year, we play everything by sowing seeds. But it is our job ». Renewable energy, then, is above all a flattery for her: «Compared to a field of arable land, a photovoltaic system can yield up to forty times as much. But the agricultural enterprise has been my life, for 35 years, I can’t imagine living without contact with the earth ».
In other words, the solar panel can be one of the thousand faces of your company. “I’m a woman, I have no problem reconciling everything, and keeping everything perfectly in order»He assures, making fun of female stereotypes. “Commonplaces don’t interest me, the problem is with men who feel challenged by my presence. The mistake of us women is to take on this problem of theirs, and to feel at fault ».
Italy, European leader in biogas
THEREtalia is today the third European producer of biogas behind England and Germany and fifth in the world after China and the USA, for an economic value of 3.2 billion euros, net of incentives. On the national territory there are currently almost two thousand biogas plants (of these about 1,600 in the agricultural sector), for a total of 1,330 MW installed and a production of about 7 TWh of renewable energy.
To date, 15% of livestock waste is transformed into biogas and by 2030 it will be possible to reach a percentage of 65% with a production of biomethane that would increase from 1.7 billion cubic meters to 6.5 billion. Thanks to the numerous requests for the construction of new plants, or for the updating of existing plants, it is possible to hypothesize a role for Italy as a European leader in this sector: by 2030 it could produce up to 8.5 billion cubic meters of biomethane.
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