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Interactive Soil Quality Assessment in Europe and China for Agricultural Productivity and Environmental Resilience

Periodic Reporting for period 4 - iSQAPER (Interactive Soil Quality Assessment in Europe and China for Agricultural Productivity and Environmental Resilience)

Reporting period: 2019-05-01 to 2020-04-30

Given the importance of soils for crop and livestock production as well as for providing wider ecosystem services, maintaining the land in good condition is of vital importance. Decision-makers need science-based, easy to apply and cost-effective tools to assess soil quality and function, accompanied by recommendations relevant to the land user at a given moment and location.

iSQAPER aimed to:
1) Integrate existing soil quality related information with characterisations of crop and livestock farming systems in various pedo-climatic zones across Europe and China;
2) Synthesize the evidence for agricultural management effects provided by long-term field trials across Europe and China on soil physical, chemical and biological properties, including interactions, and related ecosystem services such as agricultural productivity and yield stability;
3) Derive and identify innovative soil quality indicators that can be integrated into an easy-to-use interactive soil quality assessment tool, accounting for the effects of agricultural land management practices and related effects upon ecosystem services;
4) Develop, with input from a variety of stakeholders, a multilingual Soil Quality Application (SQAPP) for in-field soil quality assessment and monitoring as an example of social innovation that allows interaction between multilevel actors;
5) Test, refine, and roll out SQAPP across Europe and China as a new standard for holistic assessment of agricultural soil quality;
6) Use a trans-disciplinary, multi-actor approach to validate and support SQAPP and to become truly relevant for agricultural practice under a wide range of circumstances;
7) Develop scenarios of how widespread application of improved agricultural management practices can contribute to a lower soil environmental footprint at a continental scale (Europe and China), while maintaining or increasing crop productivity and yield stability;
8) Carry out an integrated assessment of existing soil and agriculture related EU and national (including China) policies and derive recommendations for improvement, i.e. through the post-2020 CAP; and
9) Disseminate project results using a variety of formats and media to inform and engage targeted stakeholders, ranging from land users to high-level policy makers and the general public.

iSQAPER has developed a ‘tool kit’ for policy makers, researchers and land managers to better monitor and assess soils at local, regional and continental scales, for better decision making and improved soil quality.
1) A Set of Soil Quality Indicators - To assess soil quality, an indicator set consisting of chemical, physical and biological indicators is recommended with guidance for the interpretation of indicator values.
2) In Field Soil Assessment – Empowering Farms and Land Users - Visual Soil Assessment (VSA) combined with simple in-field assessment techniques provides a reliable basis for the on-going evaluation of key soil quality parameters at farm level.
3) The SQAPP (smart phone app) – Integrating soil and landscape data to make recommendations on-farm – presents an overview of an unprecedented number of soil quality and soil threat indicators for any location in the world.
4) Informed Decision Making - facilitate the Adoption of Improved Agricultural Management Practices in Europe by systematically linking soil quality monitoring to Agricultural Management Practices (AMPs). Tailored AMPs are proposed as effective solutions to location-specific soil quality issues.
5) Modelling and scenario analysis completed on upscaling AMP adoption has identified that targeted intervention focusing on the most vulnerable regions can produce dramatic improvements in soil quality and associated ecosystem services.
Occurrence of farming systems in different pedo-climatic conditions was assessed in both Europe and China.

Existing long term experiments (LTE) available to iSQAPER in Europe and China were analysed. The effects of four management practices on five soil quality indicators was evaluated. Multi-variate analysis of the effect of tillage and organic amendments was made based on LTE data.

A critical review of soil quality concepts was made. The review outlines crucial steps in scientifically sound soil quality assessment to support management and policy decisions that account for the multi-functionality of soil. Innovative soil quality indicators were tested and recommendations made.

The final version of the Soil Quality App (SQAPP) has been released. The app has been developed through multi-stakeholder processes and provides access to global spatial soil data, informs land users on the relative soil quality of their land, and provide them with recommendations for improving the soil.

For all 14 Case Study Sites a stakeholder inventory was conducted, a total of 148 plots/farms were identified covering 8 Climatic regions and the most common soil types within each region and the effects of 14 innovative AMPs on soil quality were inventoried in 24 test sites.

A systematic review of policies was made at EU level and national level in Europe and China that impact on the protection of soils on agricultural land. Five policy briefs were produced on specific soil quality related subjects. A toolkit of 5 tools for policy makers, researchers and land managers was prepared.

The iSQAPERiS website ( is finalized as the main platform to communicate research results. Some 25 infographics and 24 short videos covering various aspects of the project were made.
iSQAPER contributed to define a combination of soil properties to effectively assess how soil quality interacts with land use, soil type and climatic conditions to influence the biomass production (agronomic) function of soils. The project also investigated the effect of agricultural management practices on changing physical and chemical soil properties and on the soil biological community using long-term field trials, lab and field experiments.

iSQAPER also addressed a gap in easy-to-apply tools to assess soil quality at the plot, farm and regional level. The Soil Quality app (SQAPP) advances the current state of the art through social soil quality mapping as a new two-way methodology of data collection and advice rendering, allowing tool recommendations to improve over time.

iSQAPER so far realized the following five impacts:
1. Exploring, in more detail than currently available, the interactions between land management practices and changes in soil properties and function.
2. Development of a toolset to assess and monitor the quality of agricultural soils based on integrating state-of-the-art soil physical, chemical and biological knowledge with site specific data, indicators, and modelling approaches.
3. Maintain and preferably increase crop productivity and yield stability through introduction and adoption of agricultural land management practices which ensure a certain level of soil quality.
4. Quantified relationship between soil quality, crop productivity and yield stability, and ecosystem services for agricultural activities deployed by land users in different farming systems across major pedo-climatic zones of Europe and China.
5. Offer tools to incorporate in the European Green Deal policy architecture to improve the agricultural sector’s resource efficiency and environmental performance and reduce its impact on soil, water, air, biodiversity and landscape.
Figure 1. Opening screens of the SQAPP beta version