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JRC report assesses soil degradation in Europe and identifies opportunities for soil-friendly farming

The European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) has just released a new report entitled "Addressing soil degradation in EU agriculture: relevant processes, practices and policies".

The new research is based first of all on modelling, at EU level, of the risk concerning the six soil degradation processes most closely linked to agriculture. These are erosion, organic matter decline, compaction, salinisation or sodification, contamination and soil bio-diversity decline. It also uses a review of the existing policy measures available at EU, national and regional levels to encourage soil-friendly farming practices. The study pays particular attention to how so-called 'conservation agriculture practices' (the combined use of no-tillage or reduced tillage, soil cover and crop rotation) might minimise the risk of soil degradation. Some of the study's main findings are: • Soils in the Mediterranean region have the highest risk of water erosion, while erosion also affects western and central Europe. Soils in the sand belt covering southern England, the Netherlands, northern Germany and Poland face high risk of wind erosion. Both types of erosion can be mitigated or prevented through, for example, conservation agriculture practices and the establishment of buffer zones or grasslands. • Farming practices, such as reduced or no-tillage, cover crops, crop rotation and intercropping, as well as conversion of arable land into grassland or forest, can help retain and even increase the organic carbon content in Europe's soils. Maintaining and optimising organic carbon levels, as a specific objective of land management, is a vital contribution to climate change mitigation. • To date, soil protection is not a specific objective of any EU legislation, although some EU Member States have targeted soil protection laws in place. Nevertheless existing policy measures do support soil-friendly farming practices to a certain extent. In particular, cross compliance requirements to keep land in good agricultural and environmental condition and agri-environment measures allow specific targeting of soil quality aspects. Using the flexibility of the EU policy framework, Member States and regions may adapt relevant measures to their local conditions. Success stories can serve as good examples for all Member States and regions. • Finally, the JRC report emphasises the need to complement these findings with a harmonised Europe-wide system for monitoring actual soil degradation, its main determinants and the effects of implemented policies at local level. Background The "Sustainable Agriculture and Soil Conservation through simplified cultivation techniques" project was launched in 2007 by the European Parliament and the European Commission to improve understanding of soil conservation practices in Europe, and to analyse how policy measures can encourage farmers to adopt such practices. The project was designed by the European Commission's Agriculture and Rural Development Directorate-General and the Joint Research Centre (JRC), the Commission's scientific advisory body. It has been implemented by the JRC's Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS) and Institute for Environment and Sustainability (IES). Six of the soil degradation processes recognised by the European Commission are closely linked to agriculture. In Europe, soil erosion is probably the most significant problem, affecting about 12% of European land. Other soil degradation processes are less visible (e.g. soil compaction) or less widespread (e.g. salinisation) but cannot be neglected. Mismanaged intensification of European agriculture over the last 50 years has contributed to soil degradation, increasing the risk of desertification in most vulnerable regions.

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Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czechia, Germany, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Spain, Finland, France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Latvia, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden, Slovenia, Slovakia