Soil & Fertilisation

Our experts develop strategies and measures for sustainable soil management and optimum fertilisation application. We improve the physical, chemical and biological quality of soils using an integrated and systematic approach. We develop systems for fertilisation, organic matter management, crop rotation, tillage, mechanisation and the control of pests and diseases in the soil.

Our experts in fertilisation, soil biology, tillage systems, mechanisation, cropping systems and management systems cooperate with businesses, government authorities and scientists from other fields of study. With our integrated approach to soil and cultivation, we regularly develop innovative solutions that contribute to better yields for farmers and less pollution.

Most of our research is conducted as part of public-private partnerships in the Agri-Food ‘top sector’ (the Sustainable Soils PPP and the Roughage Production and Soil Management PPP). We also conduct research on commission for government authorities and businesses all over the world.

Integrated soil management

Integrated soil management combines soil management, soil services and soil science.

Better soil, higher profit

We establish long-term systematic arable and vegetable crop experiments on clay, sand and peat soils to assess the effects of soil management measures on the various soil processes. These experiments improve our knowledge of how the soil functions as an ecosystem and how this ecosystem can be influenced to improve crop yields, reduce pollution and improve soil biodiversity. We conduct integrated analyses of these and other projects to develop solutions that can be applied in practice.

Integrated soil quality plan

All this knowledge and experience of integrated soil management is combined into a methodology for an integrated soil quality plan. This methodology will enable the farmers of the future to choose measures that will have a positive effect on both the soil and their yields. To get the best results, farmers will need to conduct a limited set of soil surveys to ensure that they are familiar with the properties of their own soils. We compare existing and new soil surveys to define a set of minimally required surveys.

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Soil biodiversity, soil health and soil resistance

Soil biodiversity plays a vital role in controlling pests and diseases through mechanisms such as competition, antagonism and predation. Soil life is extremely diverse and very complex due to the multitude of functions involved. Research on this theme focuses on both the development of measures and increasing our understanding of the mechanisms involved.

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Soil structure and tillage

The right soil structure is important for efficient and sustainable agricultural production. Soil structure is strongly influenced by tillage systems, compaction, crop types, crop rotation practices, the application of calcium (on clay soils) and the organic matter in the soil.

Soil structure management involves both improvements to the structure of the topsoil and the prevention or repair of subsoil compaction. We conduct research into measures and systems for the sustainable maintenance or improvement of soil structures together with businesses and farm machinery suppliers. Examples of such improvements are less intensive or non-inversion tillage, tramline systems, lightweight farm machinery and deep rooting crops that can penetrate compacted soil layers.

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Organic matter and soil fertility

Soil fertility involves the capacity of the soil to provide nutrients to plants. There is a close relationship between soil fertility, organic matter management, minerals management and the various soil services. Organic matter management focuses on the quantity, quality and distribution of organic matter in the soil. Organic matter management needs to be closely harmonised with minerals management to ensure a sustainable soil system. Our research contributes knowledge to:

  • increase soil quality in general
  • increase or maintain crop productivity levels
  • improve minerals management (‘more with less’)
  • reduce the release of minerals from the soil to air and water
  • ensure an optimum soil carbon stock

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Fertilisation is essential for crop production. Optimum fertilisation systems are required to ensure a minimum of water and air pollution and efficient use of scarce raw materials such as phosphate and potash.

Soil and Fertilisation Manual (in Dutch)

The Arable and Vegetable Fertilisation Advisory Committee (Commissie Bemesting Akkerbouw Vollegrondsgroenten - CBAV) provides soil and fertilisation recommendations for arable and vegetable crops. We function as the secretarial office for this committee. The recommendations of the CBAV can be found in the Soil and Fertilisation Manual (in Dutch). The information in this manual is constantly updated based on the latest scientific research to ensure the continued development of plant breeding and surveying techniques and soil parameters.

New fertilisers and application techniques

We conduct tests of new efficient fertilisers and application techniques together with the suppliers of farm machinery and fertilisers. We are also developing precision fertilisation methods using sensors that measure the status of the crop or soil to provide detailed and localised fertiliser recommendations.

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Arable farming and soil

Bacteria, fungi, nitrogen, phosphate, organic matter: invisible but most certainly present in the soil. And a lot more. No wonder that nobody precisely knows the best way to manage a soil in such a way that yields are high and losses to the environment low. This is why the soil is taking up a prominent position in a lot of research by Wageningen University & Research. The soil is an entity in agriculture. The farmer ploughs it, maybe ploughs it a bit deeper to remove interfering layers, sows into it, applies fertiliser to feed the crop. And farmers use chemicals when the crop is suffering from pests and diseases.

Different soil management

The business unit Field crops is investigating whether there are different options. What happens when a farmer manages his soil differently. With different combinations of crops and green manure crops, with different soil tillage methods or even without tillage, or with completely different cultivation systems. This is how we want to find out whether soil life exists that suppresses harmful organisms, whether crops can do with less nutrients, or whether leaching to the environment decreases, or whether yields can nevertheless be increased. For this research we are conducting various studies on various soil types, even including ‘non-soil-bound’ cultivation systems. In this way we offer farmers the perspective of sustainable cultivation: financially as well as environmentally.

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Read this longread for an overview of what we know of our Dutch soils