I've just spent a week on holiday in Tuscany and saw some widespread abuse of land and have been mulling on it.
The main crops in this area appear to be grapes, olives and wheat. The land is steep rolling hills, undulating with a clay/silt soil. Almost every hillside, no matter how steep is tilled, and evidence of soil erosion is everywhere. Olive groves are tilled back to bare soil 4 to 6 times per year to control weeds and the soil appear to have very very little carbon. Grapes are planted up/down slopes and the rows are tilled to control weeds. Wheat stubble is immediately ploughed into the ground leaving soil exposed.
It seems like marginal/steeper land is being more heavily used than in the past, with ploughing taking place on steep slopes that would probably have been impossible to cultivate before more modern machinery. Some fields still have flocks of sheep.
At the same time, news reports from the area from the past few years describe catastrophic flash floods.
We saw no evidence of terracing, Swales or other contour based plantings.
Terracing and contour planting.
Terracing, on contour Swales and other strategies would have significant impact on solid conservation and water retention and would likely increase carbon building in the soil. The climate here is suitable for vetiver grass hedges which when planted on contour slow surface water, trap silts and when cut in situ provide mulch materials. The roots build soil carbon and stabilise slopes and they grow as natural terrace form uphill of them.
The texture of these hills and small valleys would lend itself well to earthworks such as dams, but there seems to have been minimal work done locally and there are many opportunities that could be exploited to increase water retention in the soils and in the landscape. Streams seem to be dry at this time of year, but the stream channels are supporting lush green growth while the surrounding fields are barren. If sufficient water could be stored then small amounts of drip irrigation in the dry months could be used to strategically increase crop yields.
Grazing to manage weeds
A form of rotational grazing could be used beneath olive trees to control weeds (blamed locally for stealing water from the olives) with the objective of reducing fire fuel load and keeping weed species down, while also building soil carbon and the soil water retention capacity.
More musings and photos to follow once I get home and process them.
Moderator, Treatment Free Beekeepers group on Facebook.