Practical measures for better soil

A healthy soil life results in soil exhibiting an appropriate performance: the user will then incur lower costs in achieving a better result. What measures can a farmer or land manager take to achieve improvements in the soil structure, disease suppression, water storage or, for example, a reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases? The “Ecosystem services and soil management” project describes ecosystem services the soil can provide, gives an insight into suitable measures to promote the provision of these services, and provides an indication of the costs and financing involved.

Sustainable use of soil benefits from the biological soil quality

The Netherlands’ revised soil policy places more emphasis on the ecosystem services provided by the soil. The soil ecosystem services can be utilised in the transition to more sustainable agriculture, the development of nature on former agricultural land, nature restoration, and the transition to greener cities. This in turn provides for the achievement of objectives with reduced inputs, at lower costs and with reduced transfers. A literature study carried out for this project served as the basis for an inventory of practical measures to promote soil ecosystem services. The inventory of these measures preceded the compilation of a “Soil Management Manual” by the RIVM (National Institute for Public Health and the Environment). This Manual will contain advice for farmers, nature managers and other parties involved on measures they can take to promote the biological quality of soil and achieve a more sustainable use of soil.

The inventory reviewed ten typical Dutch combinations of soil type and land use:

Transition to other uses of land: nature restoration

  • Mixed woodlands on sand     
  • Heather on sand
  • Semi-natural grassland on sand

Transition to sustainable agriculture

  • Arable farming on sand
  • Arable farming on clay
  • Dairy or livestock farming on sand
  • Dairy or livestock farming on clay
  • Dairy or livestock farming on loess
  • Dairy or livestock farming on peat soil

Transition to the green city

  • urban parks

The scope of the expected result has been specified for four of the measures, together with the time in which these results can be achieved:

  • Conservation of organic matter by no-tillage farming
  • Increasing the amount of organic matter by crop rotation with green manure and organic fertilisers
  • Nutrient retention by woodland development

Organic matter is a key factor in all soil ecosystem services. Although the approach to soil management based on ecosystem services is feasible, it will nevertheless be necessary to draw up the measures in details for practical applications in specific locations. The ecosystem services concept would appear to be promising. However, the concept is still virtually unknown in practice. The indirect stakeholders required for the financing of measures to improve ecosystem services have yet to be identified clearly.