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Soil Care for profitable and sustainable crop production in Europe

Periodic Reporting for period 4 - SOILCARE (Soil Care for profitable and sustainable crop production in Europe)

Reporting period: 2020-03-01 to 2021-08-31

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. The overall aim of SoilCare was to assess the potential of soil-improving cropping systems (SICS) and to identify and test site-specific SICS that were expected to have positive impacts on profitability and sustainability in Europe. Key outputs planned were: 

• Scientifically proven soil-improving cropping systems
• Guidance on improved soil governance to minimize and overcome barriers to adopting these techniques
• Spatially explicit interactive mapping tool to identify the opportunities for and the effects of applying which SICS where in Europe.
The first major output of SoilCare are scientifically proven soil-improving cropping systems. Selection of SICS for testing was done in collaboration with multi-stakeholder panels established in all SoilCare study sites. Selected SICS were monitored for three seasons, and an online database was developed to collect the monitoring data from the study sites and facilitate their analysis. A methodology to assess the successfulness of SICS was developed and applied, looking at benefits, drawbacks, profitability, soil quality and overall sustainability of SICS. Conclusions:
• Overall, the monitoring results show a small positive impact of SICS on environment and soil quality, no effect on economics and sustainability and a small negative impact on the socio-cultural dimension. 
• As SICS are intended to benefit society as a whole, analysis of effectiveness of SICS should not be restricted to farm level, and should consider all ecosystem services, both on-site and off-site, to be able to assess societal costs and benefits of the application of SICS. 

Another major result is increased understanding of factors that influence adoption of SICS. Benefits and shortcomings of policies and policy instruments as drivers for adoption of SICS were analysed. Through workshops and collaboration with the study sites, policy alternatives and complementary actions at EU and at study site level were identified, which could facilitate adoption of SICS.  Interviews were undertaken with European stakeholders to explore drivers of change and related uncertainties that can impact adoption. In selected study sites, in-depth studies of social factors influencing adoption were performed.  Scenario workshops at the EU level were used to design exploratory scenarios that describe possible future states of Europe, as a basis for testing the adoption and effectiveness of different types of policy instruments. Conclusions on adoption:
• Results confirm the crucial role of social factors like trust in adoption and also underline the need for policies that support and enable a transition to more sustainable agricultural practices in a coherent way. 
• Policies should define long-term ambitions and targets, and facilitate a transition to sustainable practices. To achieve this, synergies between policies should be exploited more effectively, learning and knowledge exchange for farmers should be facilitated, and monitoring and enforcement improved.

A final key output of SoilCare is a spatially-explicit integrated assessment model (IAM) which can be used to assess the impact of cropping systems and agronomic measures throughout Europe. The IAM allows the user to understand the impact of climate change and socio-economic developments on future evolution of land use, management practices, vegetation and soil conditions. Furthermore, it provides users with the possibility to intervene in the system and assess the impact of policy, planning and management options on profitability and sustainability indicators.

In addition, an interactive mapping tool () has been developed that enables users to select SICS for different locations in Europe by exploring output maps of the SoilCare IAM. The tool contains interactive maps that show which SICS can be applied where in Europe. This tool is particularly useful for EU and national decision-makers and can be used with the future scenarios developed in the project to identify best policy actions. The interactive tool is accessible through the SoilCare website.

Conclusions from the application of the IAM:
• Simulations show that scenarios in which sustainability is given priority (by selecting specific SICS) result in better soil quality and better environmental conditions.  
• While SICS would be profitable to society in the long term, they may not always be profitable to farmers in the short term. In such conditions, adoption of SICS would require some form of compensation and support to farmers.  

Main results from SoilCare can be found on the SoilCare Information Hub (www.soilcare-project.eu) which is the central communication portal for project results. It provides a multi-lingual platform for knowledge dissemination as a project legacy. The Hub directs target audiences to the information, data and tools, at a level best suited to their interests. There are Resources pages for Farmers, Policy-makers and Researchers, which contain various dissemination materials such as fact sheets, leaflets, videos, assessment tool, policy briefs and practical SICS information for farmers. These materials have been widely disseminated to interested followers via social media, to the study site stakeholders and their farming community networks and to the project partners’ networks. 
The main impacts of SOILCARE are that 1) scientifically proven SICS have been identified across study sites, representing the different pedo-climatic zones and socio-economic conditions in Europe, 2) insight is obtained on how barriers to adopt SICS can be overcome, and 3) opportunities for and effects of upscaling and adoption at European level are assessed. Adoption of SICS has the potential to improve soil quality with reduced external inputs and with decreased soil degradation and emissions of pollutants to the environment. However, positive impacts on profitability and competitiveness of European farmers were not found at farm level in the short run (<3 years). Economic analysis, however, should not be restricted to farm economics, but should also consider other ecosystem services, both on-site and off-site, to be able to assess societal costs and benefits of SICS. Model simulations indicated that societal benefits of SICS are larger than costs in the medium to long term (2030-2050). Thus, while SICS would be profitable to society in the long run, they may not always be profitable to farmers in the short run. In such conditions, adoption of SICS would require compensation and support to farmers, as well as policies that stimulate the use of sustainable cropping systems.
Concept of SoilCare
Impacts of agronomic techniques
Countries involved in SoilCare, and location of Study Sites