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Soil Care for profitable and sustainable crop production in Europe

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - SOILCARE (Soil Care for profitable and sustainable crop production in Europe)

Reporting period: 2019-03-01 to 2020-02-29

European crop production is facing the challenge to remain competitive while reducing negative environmental impacts. Currently, production levels in some cropping systems are maintained by increased input and technology, which masks losses in productivity due to reduced soil quality. Such increased use of inputs may reduce profitability due to their costs, while also negatively affecting the environment. The choice of cropping systems and agronomic techniques is influenced by external factors such as pedo-climatic conditions, market and policies, and has important consequences as it influences soil quality and environment. Cropping systems can be considered soil-improving if they enhance soil functions in the long term, including food and biomass production. The overall aim of SOILCARE is to assess the potential of soil-improving cropping systems (SICS) and to identify and test site-specific SICS that have positive impacts on profitability and sustainability in Europe.
The following specific objectives apply:
1. To review SICS, to identify current benefits and drawbacks, and to assess current and potential impact on soil quality and environment,
2. To select and trial SICS in 16 Study Sites across Europe, representing various pedo-climatic zones and socio-economic conditions following a multi-actor approach,
3. To develop and apply a comprehensive methodology to assess benefits, drawbacks and limitations, profitability and sustainability of SICS, taking into account pedo-climatic, socio-economic and legislative conditions,
4. To study barriers for adoption and to analyse how farmers can be encouraged through appropriate incentives to adopt suitable SICS,
5. To develop and apply a method to upscale Study Site results to European level, to come up with Europe-wide information on which SICS would be most beneficial where,
6. To develop an interactive tool for selection of SICS throughout Europe,
7. To analyse the effect of agricultural and environmental policies on adoption of CS, and to support these policies,
8. To disseminate key-information about SICS including agronomic techniques.
Progress on the objectives is:
1. A literature review and four scientific publications on soil-improving cropping systems (SICS) were produced with information on benefits and drawbacks and current and potential impact on soil quality and environment. An overview publication on SICS is in preparation. Promising SICS were selected in function of local environmental and socio-economic conditions, and are being monitored in trials in the case studies. A list of indicators was drafted to assess the profitability, sustainability and soil quality of the SICS.
2. Multi-stakeholder advisory panels were formed in each study site and took part in a stakeholder analysis workshop. In collaboration with the panels, cropping systems and agronomic techniques were selected for field trials. Field trials were implemented and monitored for two seasons in almost all study sites. An online database was developed to collect the monitoring data from the study sites. Project findings will be presented to the Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Panels and other stakeholders in workshops.
3. Existing methodologies to assess SICS and associated indicators were reviewed. A methodology was created to evaluate the benefits, drawbacks, profitability, soil quality, and overall sustainability of SICS in case study sites. A monitoring plan was developed to guide the monitoring of SICS in each study site.
4. The project has analysed and documented the benefits and shortcomings of policies and policy instruments as drivers for the adoption of soil-improving cropping systems. Interviews were undertaken with European stakeholders in Brussels to explore drivers of change and related uncertainties that can impact on adoption. Through workshops and collaboration with the study site teams, policy alternatives and complementary actions at EU and at study site level were identified which could effectively facilitate adoption of soil-improving cropping systems. Preliminary findings of these activities were reported.
5. An approach was developed in consultation with study site teams to create maps of the applicability and relevance of soil improving cropping systems at regional and European level, based on climatic, soil and socio-economic conditions. Study site teams are in the process of providing feedback on the various maps both at European and regional level.
To understand the future uncertainties impacting on the adoption and application of SICS throughout Europe, interviews were held and a workshop was organized with stakeholders at European level. These provided directions for the development of a set of 4 scenarios for European agriculture till 2050, aimed to provide support to policies targeting sustainable agricultural practices including SICS.
6. This objective will be addressed in the last period.
7. Policy work has focused on analysing the role, benefits and shortcomings of policies and policy instruments as drivers for the adoption of SICS by systematically collecting evidence of the mechanisms and impacts of policies currently shaping agricultural practice. The project held workshops to identify and assess policy alternatives at EU and at site level, which could effectively facilitate adoption of SICS. The scenario workshop at the EU level was used to design qualitative, exploratory scenarios that describe possible future states of Europe, as a basis for testing the adoption and effectiveness of different types of policy instruments. A policy brief on Soil-Improving Cropping Systems for CAP post-2020 was published.
8. The SoilCare information hub (www.soilcare-project.eu) was developed as the central portal for disseminating material and outputs developed within the project. The hub has been extended by updating a blog page, developing the video page, and updating information on the Study Site and Stakeholder Platform web pages. A project leaflet was made and translated. A report was prepared that describes the European and national support and advice for soil management at farm level. The SoilCare Dissemination and Communication strategy was updated with an analysis of a stakeholder questionnaire, feedback from stakeholders attending demonstration events and an analysis of the interviews with policy-makers. Information needs of end-users are reflected in the project-wide and study site level dissemination plans. Five newsletters have been issued, the SoilCare film was produced, and 25 videos, a policy brief and a soil-threat specific SICS fact sheet.
The main impacts of SOILCARE will be that 1) scientifically proven SICS have been identified across Study Sites, representing the different pedo-climatic zones and different socio-economic conditions in Europe, 2) that insight is obtained on how barriers to adopt SICS can be overcome, and 3) that opportunities for and effects of upscaling of adoption at European level are assessed. Adoption of SICS will improve soil quality with reduced external inputs and with decreased soil degradation and emissions of pollutants to the environment, while at the same time improving profitability and competitiveness of European farmers. SoilCare work is based on 16 Study Sites in Europe, and results will be upscaled to EU scale, integrating factors operating at EU-scale, such as policy development, macro-economy, societal developments and climate change.
Concept of SoilCare
Impacts of agronomic techniques
Countries involved in SoilCare, and location of Study Sites