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Soil biodiversity enhancement in European agroecosystems to promote their stability and resilience by external inputs reduction and crop performance increase

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - SoildiverAgro (Soil biodiversity enhancement in European agroecosystems to promote their stability and resilience by external inputs reduction and crop performance increase)

Reporting period: 2020-12-01 to 2022-05-31

The agricultural sector is essential for European food security and it is present in many socio-economic EU´s frameworks. In fact, the European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is one of the most important European policies in terms of budget (39% in 2015). However, there are many challenges for Europe around agriculture that have not been adequately addressed yet. The most important is the livelihood of millions of farmers who face a high amount of threats related with agricultural profitability and stability. Loss of soil biodiversity represents one key challenge and may adversely affect the functioning, stability, resilience and adaptability of agro-ecosystems and associated ecosystem services, both within and beyond the farm level. , Therefore, the protection and enhancement of soil biodiversity should be an important objective for farmers. However, there is currently a lack of incentives (agronomic, economic and social) for farmers to safeguard biodiversity. With the long-term view of fostering the synergies between agricultural production, biodiversity and the delivery of ecosystem services of local, regional and global relevance, the SoildiverAgro consortium come together to develop and deploy innovative soil biodiversity research and crop management innovation. SoildiverAgro will contribute to the enhancement of soil biodiversity in Europe, one objective of the post- 2020 CAP as well as the delivery of a circular economy and development of a sustainable Europe future (both priorities of EU in the Commission Work Programme 2018). The main objective of SoildiverAgro is the adoption of new management practices and cropping systems that enhance soil genetic and functional biodiversity to reduce the use of external inputs while increasing crop production and quality, the delivery of ecosystem services and the EU agricultural stability and resilience.
In WP1, UVIGO (project coordinator) has coordinated and supervised the adequate implementation of the work plan to achieve SoildiverAgro objectives, milestones and deliverables. There has been a tight control of the quality of financial, administrative, contractual, legal and ethical management. The project management tools were delivered, including the Data Management Plan on 09/11/2019 to manage all generated data.
WP2 started and has been nearly completed. Data mining and decision making through a participatory process within a multi-actor approach has been developed (using surveys, discussion groups and regional workshops). There was an effective compilation of data from previous and ongoing projects and databases and posterior meta-analysis to efficiently tailor the management practices and cropping systems contributing to both, solve end-user needs and increase soil biodiversity. With this information an e-book was published (in English and Spanish), and a set of different management practices and cropping systems were defined, and considered as a baseline to develop a participatory process with stakeholders and end-users by means of development of surveys, discussion groups and regional workshops for each case study.
The main objective of WP3 is to determine the status of the soil biodiversity across the major European pedoclimatic regions in relation to climate conditions, soil characteristics, cropping and management systems. T3.1 is finalised: 188 bulk soil samples, 940 soil bulk density samples, 564 earthworm samples and 92 wheat grain samples were taken in 9 pedoclimatic regions. Task 3.2 concerning setting a consortium-wide methods implementation plan for sampling, data gathering and data analysis, is almost finished but continuously updated. In order to standardise the procedures and protocols for sampling and data gathering, to eventually make the results comparable and meaningful, a WP3 Handbook was issued. Tasks 3.3 and 3.4 regarding measurements of soil physicochemical analyses and biodiversity assessment, respectively, finished, and Task 3.5 regarding data analyses and relationships between soil characteristics, climate conditions and soil biodiversity is still ongoing.
The main objective of WP4 is to develop three sensitive and representative methods for the analysis of soil microbial and faunal diversity, to facilitate the evaluation and monitoring of soil biodiversity levels. WP4 has been developed according to the original plan described in the DoA (Annex 1). However, COVID-19 has delayed the data generation processes and hence the completion of the tasks. Task 4.3 regarding optimization of IR spectroscopy method for the chemometrical analysis of soil samples to predict soil biological groups and biodiversity, present very promising results and we decided to improve the models using data from WP5.
Regarding WP5, the 15 case studies (CS) have started their activities in the selected farms from 6 pedoclimatic regions during the first reporting period. Field experiments have been established to test different management practices for wheat, potatoes and vegetables. Soil characterization is ongoing. Sampling procedures and protocols for sample analyses in WP5 are described in detail in deliverable D5.1. Handbook on WP5 setting up. FYNECO and Symbiom have developed a series of stable and high added value formulations/products based on beneficial microorganisms capable of increasing soil quality and fertility while minimizing the incidence of soil-borne diseases.
WP6 started in month 12. The common integrated framework was finished, and linked deliverable submitted (D6.1) on M25 (5 months of delay). Task 6.2 started on time in month 24, while Task 6.3 didn´t start yet.
WP7 was expected to start on M41. However, few bibliographic works related with task 7.5 was preponed and performed by UVIGO, resulting in 2 review manuscript publications about soil biodiversity in the European Union. This work was performed in collaboration with European Commission Joint Research Centre.
In WP8, Communication, Dissemination, Exploitation and Stakeholders engagement, we made the communication and dissemination plan with the corporative SoildiverAgro image, created and continuously updated SoildiverAgro website in different languages with different news, contents and profiles in social media (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, YouTube).
Until month 36, we have developed understanding about soil biodiversity in organic and regular farming. Also we have knowledge about the biggest challenges farmers deal with day to day basis. The potential impacts still are:
1. Expand the agro-ecological knowledge base on the links and dynamics between biodiversity and agricultural production
2. Deliver best practices based on production systems (both conventional and organic) that combine support for biodiversity with value creation
3. Results in improved methods and tools to assess, evaluate and monitor different levels of diversity (genetic, species and ecosystem) as well as the linkages between agro-biodiversity and ecosystem services
4. Define operational biodiversity targets from the field to regional level
5. Deliver strategies and tools for biodiversity focused soil management
6. Reduce the dependence on external inputs in plant management through effective plant-soil interactions and the use of soil organisms
Winter wheat field picture