SFS-02b-2015 - Assessing soil-improving cropping systems
Specific challenge: European crop production is facing more and more difficulties in remaining competitive in the global market for many reasons. Some of these reasons are the loss of soil fertility and the consequent massive use of expensive external nutrient inputs, notably Nitrogen and Phosphorous, for which European agriculture is almost totally dependent on imported products, or on fertilizers produced with expensive industrial processes, which generates greenhouse gases (GHGs). Therefore, more sustainable crop management strategies are needed to maintain or increase soil fertility. Inappropriate soil and water management and the overuse of external inputs in intensive crop production systems, represent an economic loss for the farmer and a significant burden for the environment and subsequent impact on human health, as they contribute significantly to ground water and surface water pollution, GHGs emissions, the build-up in soil contaminants, such as heavy metals and organic pollutants. Better soil management and optimisation of fertilisers and water are of paramount importance for conciliating the necessary competitiveness and the long-term sustainability of the entire intensive crop production sector in Europe.
Scope: Proposals should address one of the following issue (B):
B.  Assessing soil-improving cropping systems
Proposals should assess real benefits that soil-improving cropping systems and agronomic techniques, e.g. precision farming, crop rotations, Conservation agriculture, can bring to European agriculture, as well as to identify and minimise limitations and drawbacks. Benefits may include a more rational use of natural resources, reduced energy needs, decreased GHG and other toxic gas emissions, soil fertility conservation, above and below ground biodiversity conservation and increased productivity. Limitations and drawbacks may include increased weeds, soil pathogens and problems with certain types of crops in relation to climatic conditions. Scientifically supported and field tested evidences of the mentioned beneficial effects of minimally disturbed soil, and no till or low tillage strategies, as well as of drawbacks and methods to minimise them, are needed to promote the adoption of soil-improving systems and techniques by European farmers. Considering the different pedo-climatic conditions and the varieties of cropping systems in Europe, the development of tailor-made soil-improving strategies, techniques and machinery suitable to different farming areas and adapted to different crops and crop systems, should help to overcome the current barriers that prevent their adoption by European farmers.
Proposals should fall under the concept of 'multi-actor approach'.
The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU in the range EUR 7 million for (B) would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.
Expected Impact: Proposals should show how some, or all, of the following impacts will be achieved:
· Improvement of ground and surface water quality.
· Reduction of soil contaminations with toxic compounds and heavy metals.
· Conservation of biodiversity and wildlife.
· Improved human health, through the reduced release of pollutants and GHGs.
· Scientific support to relevant EU policies
· Sound scientific evaluation of benefits and drawbacks of soil-improving cropping systems and techniques.
· Reduction of soil erosion and improvement of soil quality and structure
· Increased European farmers’ competitiveness through the reduction of production costs.
· Reduction of the negative environmental impact of crop production through less soil disturbance, better exploitation of soil biodiversity and functions and more rational use of external inputs, water and natural resource base.
Type of action: Research and innovation actions
 See definition of 'multi-actor approach' in footnote 1 in the introduction of this Work Programme part.
 Fertiliser regulation ((EC) No 2003/2003), Nitrate directive (1991), Soil Thematic strategy (COM (2006) 231)