Rice in Italy

A series of articles on Italian Rice

1 Rice in Italy

It has been a while that, for work and for personal interest, I wanted to explore Italian rice production.

In Northern Italy rice is a very important crop and a very important food.

When thinking of Italian food, the first dishes that come to mind might be the wheat based pizza and pasta, but rice, especially in the form of risotto in the northern regions is a pivotal dish of this area. Risotto is indeed a very famous Italian rice based dish, but there are many other, for example cold rice salads for the summer, risi e bisi (rice and peas) for the spring, or, more typical from southern Italy: the Timballo di riso, which is a baked rice dish with various fillings, or, the best of the best ;), the Arancine, which are fried rice balls typical of the Sicilian street food tradition.

Indeed, rice is used throughout Italy, it was first imported in the south, but it is in the north where rice is most radicated in the culinary and agricultural tradition. Rice was cultivated in northen Italy at least since the 15th century. Italian rice varieties were bred here, adapting them for high latitude and temperate growing conditions, and for our culinary tastes.

There are many aspects of Italian rice that are worth exploring: its history, its genetic pools, the characteristics of the plant and of its grain and its part in Italian culinary tradition. Here I decided to start from the areas in which rice is cultivated.

2 Searching Open Data

To explore and quantify where rice is cultivated in Italy, I had to search for at least two kinds of data.

  1. Data about agriculture, quantifying how much land is dedicated to which crop/to which kind of farming, and hopefully how much rice they produce.
  2. Geographical data, to aggregate agricultural data on a map.

2.1 Agricultural data from Regione Lombardia

Lombardy is the administrative region in Italy that has Milan as capital. It’s where I’m staying right now, and it’s also one of the main rice producing regions

It turned out that this region maintains highly detailed datasets on its open data website, about many topics, including agriculture.

And when I say “highly detailed”, I mean it. I was plotting some of their shapefiles to figure out what they stored, and I was puzzled when the resulting shape was a square. I realized that the square was one single farm/field. The dataset that I was exploring contained the shapes and coordinates of every farm field in Lombardy, together with what is cultivated on it!

For example, this is every area dedicated to agriculture/farming in Gaggiano, a municipality south west of Milan. (The image below is a screenshot of a leaflet app, here you’ll find the code to download the data and launch the interactive app.)

Associated to the shapefiles, at the same website there is a dataset that stores details of what’s cultivated in each field. With this dataset I could estimate how much land is dedicated to rice production, for each municipality of Lombardy. Here you can find the script for those steps.

I wanted to visualize the area that is dedicated to rice production in each municipality of Lombardy with a Choropleth map. But to do this, I needed a file with shapes and coordinates of the municipalities.

2.2 Shapefiles of Italy on ISTAT

The Italian Institute for Statistics, ISTAT, maintains shapefiles of administrative areas at various administrative levels.

You can use this script (the same as above) to download and merge the shapefiles dataset with the one that stores rice production. In this script you can find also all the options and the details on how to launch the leaflet app below, with the map of rice farming in Lombardy:

load("_data/lom_rice_shapes.Rdata") #content/post/
load("_data/lom_cloropleth_options.Rdata") # options for leaflet
m_lom <- 
  leaflet() %>% 
  setView(lat = 45.6, ln = 9.7, zoom = 9) %>% 
  addTiles(urlTemplate = "//stamen-tiles-{s}.a.ssl.fastly.net/{variant}/{z}/{x}/{y}.{ext}",
           attribution = attribution,
           options = stamen_options) %>%
  addPolygons(data = lom_rice_shapes$geometry,
              fillColor = pal(lom_rice_shapes$rice_dens),
              stroke = TRUE,
              weight = 1,
              color = "#2D408F",
              fillOpacity = .8,
              label = labels,
              labelOptions = percent_label) %>% 
  addLegend(pal = pal,
            values = lom_rice_shapes$rice_dens,
            labFormat = labelFormat(prefix = "", suffix = "%",
                                    between = ", ",
                                    transform = function(x) {100 * x}),
            title = "Land dedicated<br>to Rice\nProduction",
            position = "bottomright")