Agriculture and greenhouses: small farmers in Sicily, Italy
Agriculture and Greenhouses
An Opportunity Analysis for Bayer CropScience
“The farmer has to be an optimist or he wouldn’t still be a farmer”.
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The Sicilian Context
Sicily in Numbers
Ragusa and Greenhouse Cultivation
Observation & Synthesis
The Siciliy Field Research Program
The Interview Guides
Time and Money Flowchart
Stakholders on the Agrcultural Context. Influence on System
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During our journey in defining the scope of design and social business, we had the opportunity to collaborate
on a project with a multinational corporation that showed interest in our work and methodology.
Due to the confidential information revealed throughout the research and used throughout our analysis, synthesis and
ideation, we will not be able to share the detailed outcomes of our project. However, it is important to acknowledge
this project as a valuable tool to understand how social and design can integrate within large corporations.
“Bayer: Science For A Better Life”.
Bayer CropScience is the second largest crop protection global company, with sales in 2006 of USD$4,874 million in
the crop science sector and USD$8,000+ million for the entire company. Bayer CropScience sells products in the United
States, Canada, Mexico, Asia, Europe, Brazil, Australia and other countries. Its customers are commercial dealers and
growers in crop production, horticulture, turf and ornamentals and professional products. Products are insecticides
(#1), herbicides, fungicides, and seeds.
Bayer CropScience is with annual sales of about EUR 6.8 billion one of the world’s leading innovative cropscience
companies in the area of crop protection (Crop Protection), non agricultural pest-control (Environmental Science),
seeds and plant biotechnology (BioScience).
Customers include distributors, dealers and farmers.
Identify opportunity spaces for Bayer to develop new products and/or services within the context of greenhouse
agriculture in Ragusa - Sicily.
To understand the opportunities for the development of new services, to analyze the needs of farmers, retailers and
other stakeholders and to give insights about the innovation process in greenhouse agriculture
Even though much of its mountainous terrain is unsuitable for farming, Italy has a large work force (1.4 million)
employed in farming. Most farms are small, with the average size being only seven hectares. In this context, Sicily
is known for it’s vegetables, which since the sixties have gained much larger markets in the quality of crops in
greenhouses, found mainly in the South East, such as the famous Pachino tomatoes, or legumes such as lupine.
Sicily in Numbers
Total area of Italy
Total area of Sicily
Area in Km2 of Sicily compared to Italy
Capital City: Palermo
GNI (PPP) per capita: 17,533
Proportion of Greebouses in Sicily
compared to Italy
Most of the greenhouses in Sicily are located mainly along the strip in the south coast, especially in the province
of Ragusa. In particular, in the Vittoria, Comiso, Achates and Santa Croce Camerina zones. There predominate the
floriculture, and the fruit and vegetable sectors, while the marine area of Scicli, Pozzallo, and Ispica presents mainly
vegetable crops in open fields (Sicily Region). The entire inland of the coastline of Ragusa, from Ipsica to Vittoria (and
recently some areas from Gela and Mazara) have constituted for several decades an area of excellence for protected
“...the industry’s most outstanding
and innovative feature is that of the
greenhouses, especially on sandy
soils, which stretch from Vittoria to
the coast; millions of square meters of
cropland, made with great economy
of material, ...that go through the
The agriculture of the province has many traditional aspects: on the plateau dry crops are prevalent, especially cereals
and tree crops. A mosaic of tree crops and vegetable plants characterizes the areas of Ispica and Pozzallo , the hills
and the plains of Vittoria, Comiso and Achates. But the industry’s most outstanding and innovative feature is that
of the greenhouses, especially on sandy soils, which stretch from Victoria to the coast; millions of square meters of
with great economy of material, in which there is a production of zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes and
flowers (the latter, especially in the area of Victoria) that go through the entire year. The cultivation in greenhouses is
presented - in monofunctional or multifunctional areas - in the Ispica region, including Donnalucata and Scicli, as well
as along the coast and in between Punta Secca and Santa Croce Camerina and between Acate and Achates. In the early
seventies the explosion of the ragusian greenhouses has been, according to Antonio Saltini , one of the most striking
phenomena of vitality of the entire Italian agriculture building, on land which offered virtually no income, a flow of
income and involving a large number of related areas, from trade of seeds and pesticides to that of polyethylene, from
bottled gas for heating greenhouses and refrigeration facilities for road transport.
Greenhouse cultivation plays an important part in flower and fruit and vegetable growing. In the Mediterranean basin,
crops grown in some sort of protective structure cover an estimated surface area of over 40,000 hectares, largely with
little technological input. Yet innovation continues, for the structures used and the crop techniques and technical
The wine-growing economy has an important place of Ragusa, there are many wines IGT and DOC products, among
which stands the Cerasuolo di Vittoria, produced from the grape Nero d’Avola and Frappato .
Greenhouses are almost all built in two basic types: gable roofed with symmetrical or asymmetrical gables, and tunnels
with a circular or elliptical section. They also differ in terms of the conditions inside, which rests on the type of crop:
cold frame, when there is no temperature control; temperate frame when the night temperature is kept at 10-14°C;
and hot houses with a temperature of 16-20°C at night. Some wooden framed greenhouses are still built, but steel is
the most widely used material. The frame must be strong to support its own weight, any secondary supports such as
metal anchors, the covering, and also factors such as wind and snow. The type of cover material decides the type of
structure, its shape and size.
Controlled greenhouse conditions means controlling not only the temperature, but also humidity, illumination and air
flows. In hot and temperate greenhouses, heating is the most important component. The ‘greenhouse effect’ is not
enough to guarantee the temperature, so artificial heating is almost always indispensable. It is generally produced
by hot air generators fitted with fans. The most common type is suspended in the air and blows the hot air through a
suspended pipe made of plastic film with holes in it. Heating can also be applied to the substrate in which the plants
grow, using PVC pipes buried or laid on the bottom of the growing bench.
The whole operation of a modern greenhouse – shading tarps, mechanised opening and closing, heat regulation, etc. –
can be managed fully from a computer on the basis of information from sensors and peripheral microprocessors.
Problems in Greenhouse Cultivation
The troubles which arise in the culture of crops in the greenhouse may be divided into several groups
»» failure to supply the essential factors for optimum growth such as light, moisture, carbon dioxide and heat in
amounts necessary for each individual crop
»» fertilizer deficiencies
»» fertilizer excesses
»» toxic gases
»» attacks by insects, animals, and allied pests and
»» susceptibility to fungus, bacteria and virus troubles.
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Ragusa & Greenhouse Cultivation
Ragusa holds the national record of gross marketable agricultural production, with 47% of the floriculture and
vegetable production in greenhouses.
Other initiatives that have dealt with greenhouse agriculture are:
The greenhouses of Ragusa are used mainly for horticulture, especially for tomatoes, eggplants, bell peppers, zucchini
and melons. Tomatoes alone, account for 70% of the entire production in the zone.
Technology use in the area is also very limited, especially among the small farmers, and many of them still use the
same techniques of 20 years ago. Most of the greenhouses in the area are cold ones, which means that they are not
heated, or use automated temperature control mechanisms since they can benefit from milder temperatures than other
renowned greenhouse zones such as the Netherlands, and the relation between cost and benefit is still high. Instead,
it is widely spread the use of plastic to cover the soil to keep it warmer and to avoid sudden changes of temperature.
This help to considerably reduce the production costs, since the use of fuel is very limited, and many times, none.
Techniques such as soil-less cultivation (fuori solo) which is one of the biggest trends of the market in the recent
years – plants grown outside of the ground in suspended bags containing natural fibers and added nutrients – are still
not very diffused because of the high cost of implementation. The use of soil-less cultivation considerably reduces
the contamination of the plants by fungus , lowering the need of agrochemicals. In Italy, it accounts for 3% of all
greenhouse production while in Holland for over 50%.
The cycles of a crop can vary from farm to farm. They can decide to do one or two cycles per year. One cycle a year,
reduces the overall costs, since they planting occurs only once. On the other hand, even if it is more costly doing two
cycles, it allows the harvesting in times such as winter or Christmas when farmers can sell their products at higher
Walking Plant Systems
In Holland, Walking Plant Systems, one of the major
suppliers of greenhouse management systems,
uses electronic tagging employed in the automatic
identification of people and things (Radio Frequency
Identification) to keep track of each individual vase and
optimize the entire process of greenhouse cultivation.
The system created by WPS integrates RFID and image
technology to achieve full automation through the plant’s
crop cycle, from sowing to sale to the final customer.
The software also means that each plant can receive
specific treatment as a function of its needs. RFID also
makes retail sales management very reliable.
Film Technique (NFT)
A simplified hydroponic technique known as Nutrient Film
Technique or NFT was developed in England in the 1970s.
using small channels at a slope of 1 - 1.5% covered with
an opaque plastic roof.
The plants are started in inert materials such as perlite
or rock wool and then placed over a channel containing
a fine, continuous flow of nutrient. In this way, the
roots are always bathed in a veil of nutrient solution
continually on the move so there is no need for it to be
aerated artificially. Of course, the nutrient is kept moving
by a pump with continuous control of pH and heat
The agrochemical market. Growing sales of generic products.
With few new pesticide active ingredients coming to market, sales of older pesticides are dominating global
agriculture. When patents on these older pesticides expire generic producers can start manufacturing. The original
research-based companies seek to maintain control while generic producers try to capture a share of the market. Fierce
competition is likely to bring about significant changes over the next five years.
Agrochemicals are an aging industry. While over 800 pesticide active ingredients remain on the market, the number of
new substances being developed has fallen considerably over the last ten years. In some industrialized country markets
older products are losing their registrations. For example, the European Union review has removed over 360 active
ingredients to date.
But these and many other chemicals are still available elsewhere. But while aging, the industry has not lost its vigour.
The overall global agrochemical pesticide market was valued at US$32 billion in 2004 with generic products making
up an increasing percentage of this market. Latest estimates indicate that generic products account for US$18 billion,
or around 66% of overall sales1 and by volume, generic active ingredients may account for approximately 95% of all
product sales worldwide.
Six research-based agrochemical companies (Bayer, BASF, Dow, DuPont, Monsanto and Syngenta) control around 85%
of the overall global market by value. Generic pesticides are key in their product portfolios and these companies play a
dominant role in the generic market, with approximately 70% of sales by value, and possibly 65% by volume.
Figure 1. Greenhouse production in Ragusa compared to the rest of
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Table 1. Description of the agrochemical market.
Provide Bayer CropScience
with opportunity spaces
for the development of new
products and services that
aim at improving farmers’
The Sicilly Field Research Program
The Sicily Trip Program (13th - 16th September)
Arrive to Sicily
Interviews with farmers, retailers and
other stakeholders in the agriculture
field throughout the day
Complete information download
Information sharing and downloading in
Leave Sicily to Milan
Initial dialogue – Building the system
map on field workforce together with
Table 2. The schedule of our 4 day research in Sicily.
In preparation for our field research in Sicily, we developed interview guides for the different stakeholders in the
agriculture system that we had identified earlier with Bayer representatives in Milan.
Once in Sicily, we interviewed and conducted card games with 9 farmers, 3 retailers, 1 vivarium, 1 commissioner,
1 quality certification administrator and 1 technician. In addition, we had a group discussion with 3 of Bayer’s
representatives that helped us understand the relationships within the complex agriculture system.
A main tool that helped facilitate the conversations with our interviewees was the card sorting game. This visual aid
helped the stakeholders express abstract and emotional sentiments through the use of words and images. These include:
»» Their relationship and feelings towards all the other stakeholders involved in the process: farmers, retailers, buyers,
customers, companies, cooperatives, etc.
»» Trust issue and community sense.
»» Economical barriers/gains and frustrations/satisfactions.
»» Ideal services for them.
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The Interview Guides
Interview Guides - Retailers
Interview Guides - Farmers
Use Of Agrochemicals
“Libretti Srl” - 200ha
- 150 employees commercialization
Prevention - type and brand chosen
by the technician in house
“Nowadays it is very difficult to
start in agriculture”
Family business - 0.5ha from 1 to 2 employees
Grapes, tomato, zucchini
Doesn’t pay attention to the brand products chosen with son (technician)
- No protections
“I don’t see agriculture as a
possibility” - “We’d like to be
part of a coop that looks after
Family business - 5ha from 9 to 10 seasonal
No prevention; products chosen
by brand - managed by specialized
“I buy what I know”
Family business - 8ha 15 employees
Helped by a friend technician doesn’t care about the brands he uses
“I’m willing to pay more for the
Biological farm (with
3 associates) - 45ha
- 120 employees commercialization
Tomato, small percentage
of other horticultural
No use of chemicals if not authorized
- products chosen by the technician
inhouse (both brands and generics)
“Market requires bio and
beautiful at the same time” “Plastic bio”
Big retailer 4 employees
30% plastics - fertilizers
and other products
Regarded as partners - Bayer is less
flexible with payments but credible and
“We give more credit than
39 & 40 years
Agrisol” - Big retailer
Agrochemicals - zinc wire - other structural
They have a bigger margin with the
generics but prefer selling the brand
- Syngenta gives the best service and
the fastest delivery - Bayer has a long
delivery time but a great technical
“Tutto Per L’agricoltura”
(4 brothers + 1 external)
Big variety of products
in small storage, mostly
He has power of negotiation because
pays always on time
“Clients trust us on
Table 5. The table lists some of the data gathered from the retailer interviews.
Interview Guides - Comissioner
Small family business - 1ha
- 2 seasonal workers
Choice influenced by the technicians,
the retailer, the price and the
personal experience - No protections
“I buy the products I find” “We usually buy the brands that
Family business - 15ha
- 50/60 workers commercialization
Products chosen by the technician
“To maintain yourself in the
business you need to have a
name and quality”
(3 brothers) - 4ha
Grapes, tomato, pepper
Depends on the help of the technical
forces from the companies (Bayer)
“Everybody looks for his own
Small family business - 3ha
- 1 fixed/1 seasonal worker
Chooses based on his personal
knowledge - Bayer products too
“Bayer products are good but
expensive” - “Better to pay
more for a product that works”
The table lists some of the data gathered from the farmer interviews.
Relationships in the System
Commissioner in Vittoria market and owner of
the transformation company “Agromonte”
Has a place in the market where he buys
products for his company and for small farmers
for the Italian market taking 10% commission
“The market is missing a lot of services” “There is lack of experience and knowledge
Table 6. The table lists some of the data gathered from the commissioner interviews.
Interview Guides - Quality Certification Agency
Give consulting and certification services (the
“We have to attract young people to join the
field” - “We have to innovate culturally and in
the mentality of the farmers here”
Table 7. The table lists some of the data gathered from the quality certification agency interview.
Interview Guides - Vivarium
Interview Guides - Bayer
Use of Agrochemicals
Relationships in the System
(3 greenhouses - 1 bio)
They have a technician in house, don’t
use chemicals till the plant is in the
“The client comes knowing
what he wants” - “We
give credits only if there’s
C.T.C. for Bayer - Part of crop team
Direct relationships with retailers and coops.
(Orders) and farmers (promotion of products &
“I can’t bypass the retailer” - “Too many
technicians in the chain and lack of
communication between them” - “Bayer’s profit
depends on the whole system, each player has
an important role in it”
Table 4. The table lists some of the data gathered from the vivarium interview.
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Table 8. The table lists some of the data gathered from the quality certification agency interview.
“I buy the products I find”
“Usually we buy the brands that everybody knows”
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“I only buy the products I know”
“Nowadays is very difficult to start in agriculture”
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“I don’t see agriculture as a possibility”
“Market requires bio and beautiful at the same time”
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“Bayer’s profit depends on the whole system,
each player has an important role in it”
“We give more credit than we should”
“I’m willing to pay for a service to be sure to have my money back”
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“Here we are in the middle age”
(small & medium)
(small & medium)
Relations Between the Different
Stakeholders Within the Agricultural Context
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Time and Money Flow Between the
Different Stakeholders Within the Agricultural Context
Stakeholders of the Agricultural Context
Influence on the System
looking after their
interests and needs;
able to have more
power in the chain
Sells its products to
the farmers through
the retailer; has
influence on farmers’
choices through the
forces in field
Buys the products
and resell them to
the farmers with
a margin; has the
power to influence
the farmers’ choices
Buys the seeds to
the seed company
and sell baby plants
to the farmers,
according to the
Produces crops to be
sold on the market
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Agency in charge to
give the Global Gap
Certification to the
Taking the 10% of
the crops from
the farmers at the
to resell them
to other buyers
back the producer in
Buys products from
directly from the
producer (can resell
private users etc)
pays back after 30
Buys products from
paying back every 30
Groups of big
big amounts of
back every 30
with producers or
So how might Bayer...
After collecting all the data and insights gathered from the different activities conducted with the major stakeholders
in the agriculture context in Sicily, we identified patterns and clustered the information in main themes. The recurrent
patterns and relevant quotes back up the themes which formed the foundation of our brainstorming sessions. These
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encourage/enable specialization of farmers?
generate brand awareness by communicating its products using a more familiar
generate a service/solution that will help farmers with waste management?
create more brand awareness through the active principle of products?
play a role in helping farmers in the quality certification process?
help farmers trust each other?
play a role in bringing farmers together?
help in attracting the young generation to the agriculture field?
develop farmers’ skills and know-how?
empower farmers with managerial knowledge on running farms?
give more importance/empower retailers to sell its products?
take advantage of good relations with the retailers to sell their products?
improve its delivery system?
gain influence over the retailer on the products farmers buy?
bypass the retailers’ influence on clients?
help farmer with payments to retailers?
help small farmers access new markets/channels?
ease the bureaucratic procedures that farmers have to go through?
reduce the number of intermediates between the farmer and the consumer?
raise awareness regarding quality to end consumers?
use vivariums as a channel to increase/market product sales?
In order to explore the opportunity spaces for providing solutions to the identified problems, one brainstorming tool
we use is to ask ourselves ‘how might we’ questions. In this case, we asked ‘how might Bayer...’ questions in order to
trigger ideas for innovative solutions that Bayer can develop, be it products, services or systems, in order to fidelize
farmers to their portfolio.
Market End User & Vivarium
Lack of unity / aggregation
Market instability / prices
Bayer products & pricing
Technical regulation / bureaucracy
Lack of professional stakeholders
use their know-how and R&D department to expand the line of products/services to
provide infrastructure/ technical innovation to farmers?
take advantage of the pre-existing techniques to introduce innovation?
Bayer CropScience is one among many other multinational companies that are showing great interest in
social initiatives. These companies that are willing to exploit their resources for social benefits need to
rethink how they go to market and how they are perceived by those markets.
This provides an opportunity for design to play a role in guiding these companies through their discovery
process and to become “leaders in leapfrogging to products that don’t repeat the environmental mistakes
of developed countries over the last 50 years.” (The fortune at the end of the pyramid).
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»» Bayer CropScience http://www.bayercropscience.com/
»» P. Piccarolo, Greenhouse Type and Crop Techniques. (Mondo Macchina Worldn Issue #5, 2008)
»» Sicily and Ragusa profile http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sicily
220 - Sicily · Agriculture and Greenhouses - D4SB
»» Campiotti, C.A. F. Dondi & C. Viola. Sviluppo di un Modello sostenibile di sistema serra a ciclo chiuso
e controllato per la riqualificazione tecnologica, Energetica e produttiva delle colture protette nella
Sicilia Meridionale (MODEM). (Agenzia nazionale per le nuove tecnologie, l’energia e lo sviluppo
economico sostenibile. 2008).
»» Economia in Sicilia : agricoltura, allevamento, pesca, produzione di energia, undustria.