“We’ve identified and are testing potential cropping systems that don’t just improve agricultural soil quality, but also boost profitability.” That’s the simple message Rudi Hessel of Wageningen Environmental Research is sending on behalf of the EU-funded SoilCare project to the farming sector today, 5 December 2018, Word Soil Day.
Farms of all scales – from small organic to large industrial – can implement SoilCare’s Soil-Improving Cropping Systems (SICSs) to potentially cut costs and/or increase yield and quality, while protecting long-term soil health. The optimisation techniques may mean agrochemical inputs like fertilisers and herbicides can be drastically reduced.
SoilCare’s SICS include crop rotation and cover crops, tillage, organic amendments (such as humic acid and green manure), mulches and organic techniques. The project team has identified some specific SICS for farmers to use in preventing a range of soil threats when growing specific crop-types. The team’s review of SICSs also features agronomic techniques that will help optimise any existing cropping system regardless of crop-type or context. “The 16 study sites in SoilCare are now testing a range of SICSs and we are looking forward to learning about their advantages and drawbacks,” says project coordinator Rudi Hessel.
The team’s results are timely, coming ahead of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s World Soil Day, and against a backdrop of the deteriorating health of Europe’s agricultural soils caused by overexploitation and poor management. At a European level, soil erosion affects over 12 million hectares of land – about 7.2% of the total agricultural land – and leads to 1.25 billion euro loss in crop productivity.
As the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation uses World Soil Day to raise awareness about soil health, it may come as little surprise to find out that soil doesn’t just impact our food supplies, it also helps clean water and lower risks of floods and droughts. More surprising is the SoilCare team’s efforts to treat profitability for farmers as a central priority – a consideration many research projects on environmental health overlook.