The extensification process affects the environment of dry agriculture and is carried out in different ways: restitution of poorer arable land to pastures, greater weight given to fallow in crop rotations, elimination of crops that require considerable use of human labor (woody plants, sarchiate), suppression of small farms that perform an integrative function in the business economy. This process also includes the phenomenon of abandonment of marginal lands which, according to approximate calculations, affects at least 5 ÷ 6 million ha without considering that a part of the agricultural and forest area registered as permanent pastures and meadows constitutes, in practice, abandoned land.
According to TIMEDICTIONARY, the intensification process, which consists in increasing the productivity of the land with the use of skilled labor and means, mainly concerns the plains and hills, where traditional production combinations are gradually replaced with specialized crops that can be easily mechanized. It is favored, among other things, by the expansion of irrigation infrastructures both in the Italy in the north, where they have long had a consolidated presence, and in the southern regions, where the construction of numerous artificial reservoirs has made it possible to extend the benefit of the water to some traditionally dry crops (vines, orchards, cereals, etc.).
Among the major artificial lakes built in the Italy southern from the suppressed Cassa per il Mezzogiorno we remember those of Campotosto in Abruzzo, of Ampollino and Arvo in Calabria, of San Giuliano and Pertusillo in Basilicata, of Ancipa in Sicily. The total water accumulated in the artificial reservoirs, equal to 5 billion m 3, for the moment allows the irrigation of about 500,000 ha, while the works in progress or already approved plan to extend the irrigation network to an area three times higher than to the current one (1,500,000 ha).
Irrigation, in the South, is practiced by 25% of farms and affects 8% of the agricultural area used, against 15% of Italy as a whole. The irrigated area per farm, on average, is equal to 1.5 ha compared to 3 ha for the whole country. Furthermore, in the central-northern regions, collective irrigation managed by consortia predominates, which draw water essentially from rivers; in the Italy southern, if we exclude the areas that fall within the areas of the agrarian reform and that draw water from artificial reservoirs, individual irrigation prevails through the company wells which in some areas go down to a depth of 500 m and often, especially in the coastal strip, cause the rise of brackish waters of marine origin.
The irrigated area in the whole national territory is also increasing due to the construction of the so-called hilly lakes built on the clayey ridges of the Apennines, blocking the outflows of the streams with earth dams of modest height, less than 10 m. They constitute a water reserve such as to ensure the irrigation needs of farms ranging from 10 to 100 ha. About 8000 have been built so far, mainly in the central Apennines. Overall, however, irrigation affects a still quite limited percentage of the national agricultural area. However, it accounts for over half of the Italian agricultural production.
Variations in the crop picture. – As mentioned, the evolution that has characterized the use of the soil can be summarized in three points: strong contraction of arable land, increase in pastures and slight increase in woody crops.
In the field of arable land, the area allocated to cereals, in particular barley and oats, has decreased, while the space reserved for some industrial crops (sugar beet, sunflower, corn, etc.) and above all for vegetables has increased, which have come out of the urban outskirts, where they had long been confined, to expand everywhere the pedoclimatic conditions and the availability of irrigation water have made it possible. Their development (which occurred mostly in southern Italy) is due, to a not insignificant extent, to the spread of greenhouses that extend over 15,000 ha, particularly affecting Liguria, Tuscany, Lazio, Campania, Puglia and Sicily. About one sixth of their surface, however, is also used for the cultivation of flowers and ornamental plants.
In the context of woody crops, there has been a drastic decline in mixed crops in favor of specialized ones, whose surface has more than doubled. In the Italy their northern expansion essentially concerns fruit trees: apple and pear trees in Trentino-Alto Adige, various fruit trees (peaches, plums, apricots, cherries, etc.) in Emilia-Romagna and other regions. In the Italy central-southern, on the other hand, their increase mainly concerns citrus fruits and vines. Citrus fruits, initially located almost exclusively in Sicily, Calabria and Campania, also expanded into Lazio (the Latina plain), Puglia and Basilicata (coastal plains of the Gulf of Taranto). The vine, which by virtue of peculiar agricultural pacts linked to the overabundance of work (such as the contract for an improvement colony and emphyteusis) had spread to the worst lands, disappeared or almost disappeared from the marginal areas and was concentrated in areas with deep and fertile soils, sometimes also benefiting from irrigation. The vine for table grapes (southern Lazio, maritime Abruzzo, Puglia, Sicily) has had a particular expansion, grown with the characteristic pergola system (awning).
The entry into the EEC of Greece, Spain and Portugal, countries characterized by productions similar to those of southern agriculture, represented a cause of further changes. In fact, it has added new reasons for the crisis to Mediterranean-type crops, for which rapid productive reconversion processes have been necessary for large areas of the South.