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Managing soil and groundwater impacts from agriculture for sustainable intensification

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - INSPIRATION (Managing soil and groundwater impacts from agriculture for sustainable intensification)

Reporting period: 2018-04-01 to 2020-03-31

"Agricultural production in Europe has significantly damaged soil and water resources, ecosystem biodiversity, socio-economic well-being and contributed to climate change. Expected further intensification of production to ensure food safety for population growth must be sustainable to minimise future impacts and negative externalities.
This European Innovative Training Network (E/ITN) addresses these challenges by training 15 early-stage researchers in cutting edge research skills and innovative approaches to manage soil and groundwater impacts from agriculture for sustainable intensification. It supports EU policy goals on food security, resource conservation, renewable energy and climate change, and the aims of the H2020 Societal Challenge 5 Work Programme for sustainable management of the environment and its resources.
The scientific objectives focus on developing (1) management techniques which mitigate environmental impacts of agricultural practices on soil, water and climate systems, and support sustainable intensification using new production methods; (2) ""smart"" environmental monitoring, biotechnology and modelling tools to predict the outcome of measures and practices in (1); (3) decision-making tools with sustainability indicators to implement sustainable agricultural production methods. This will be achieved by linking lab-scale studies of processes with field-scale evaluation of novel management concepts, analytical tools and modelling, using state-of-the-art methods.
The network includes research, advisory and commercial organisations from all sectors of the agri-environmental management community, and SMEs to multinational firms. Its novel training agenda of workshops and summer schools on technical and commercial skills, international conferences, industry secondments and knowledge transfer activities has the specific aim of transferable skills training. This is highly relevant for scientific communication, societal impact and entrepreneurship, preparing the fellows for careers in many sectors."
Between 2016 and 2020, the Inspiration Network provided ca. 510 months of scientific training to 17 early-stage researchers in the field of groundwater, surface water, sediment and soil monitoring and protection with regards to the sustainable intensification of agriculture. The state of the art reviews carried out by each of the early-stage researchers (ESR) identified major knowledge gaps fundamental to achieving the scientific objectives of the Network. The ESRs have made advances in the development of innovative methodologies, sensors and sampling techniques for continuous, on-site measuring of fluxes of agricultural chemicals, such as phosphate, nitrate, in the subsurface at local field sites associated with agricultural activities. Further efforts have been focused on the extension from local to the area of a river catchment in order to predict nutrient and contaminant movements between different environmental compartments. The fellows progressed in the field of testing and identifying low cost amendments and bioremediation technologies to restore marginal lands back into agricultural usage, as well as in the ‘at-source’ mitigation of soil and groundwater impacts from agricultural activities. The design of a groundwater model capable of processing real time monitoring data from catchment-scale, and the development of comprehensive and current decision making tools informed by the most recent findings of the Network for creating sustainable agricultural management strategies have also been provided.
The state of the art reviews carried out by each of the early-stage researchers (ESR) identified major knowledge gaps fundamental to achieving the scientific objectives of the Network. The understanding and addressing of these gaps is crucial when we consider the intensification of agricultural production from the point of view of sustainable usage of land and natural water resources, as well as long-term impact on human health. These reviews are used to create awareness of the knowledge gaps through peer-reviewed scientific publications and other dissemination activities where the ESRs engage in direct discussion with stakeholders, policy makers, primary school teachers and student and the general public. The collective research efforts of 17 young scientists and engineers in 7 countries of the European Economic Area have been concentrated in areas where there has been no capacity, time, resources, knowledge and/or financial support to collect and analyse sufficient number of samples from local farm to river catchment scale and across seasonal variations and different agricultural activities. This vast amount of information is used to create valuable datasets, models and strategies for better informed decision making and monitoring of the effect of anthropological agricultural activities on our environment. Without this reliable and sustainable intensification cannot be achieved.
675120 Inspiration ITN photo collage