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SOILCARE Report Summary

Project ID: 677407
Funded under: H2020-EU.3.2.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SOILCARE (Soil Care for profitable and sustainable crop production in Europe)

Reporting period: 2016-03-01 to 2017-08-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

European crop production is facing the challenge to remain competitive, while at the same time 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, and can be considered soil-improving if they result in a durable increased ability of the soil to fulfill its functions, 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 are distinguished:
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.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

Work performed until now can be summarized by describing progress towards achieving the objectives listed above.

1. An extensive literature review was performed in which existing information on soil-improving cropping systems (SICS) has been assembled and analysed. A pre-selection of promising SICS was made. Depending on the local/regional environmental and socio-economic conditions, the farmer will select the appropriate combinations of crop types, crop rotations and agro-management techniques. The effectiveness of the selected combinations has to be assessed on the basis of monitoring programs of profitability, sustainability and soil quality indicators. A list of suitable indicators has been compiled.

2. Multi-stakeholder advisory panels were convened in each study site, and invited to take part in a stakeholder analysis workshop. This identified all relevant stakeholders interested in the profitability and sustainability of cropping systems in each study site. The results were used to supplement the stakeholder advisory panel in each site to ensure panels represent the full range of interests in the project. In collaboration with these advisory panels, cropping systems and agronomic techniques have been selected for field trials.

3. Analysis of existing assessment methodologies was done, and was supplemented by a review of available indicators to assess environmental, economic and socio-cultural aspects of SICS. This information will be used to develop the assessment methodology. A monitoring plan is being be developed that describes what will be monitored at each study site. Both methodology and monotoring plan will contain elements that are common to all study sites (to allow comparison between sites as well as upscaling), and elements that are site specific (in order to take into account that each site has its own unique characteristics as well).

4. Work in relation to adoption and barriers to adoption is looking at various aspects of adoption, in particular, social aspects, economic aspects and policy aspects. Work on adoption is overall in a preparatory phase.

5. Work has started on the development of an integrated assessment model that can be used to upscale from study site level to European level.

6. Will be done in later periods

7. Policy work carried out so far 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.

8. The SoilCare information hub was developed, and is being filled with project results. A project leaflet was made and has been translated into all study-site languages. The SoilCare Dissemination and Communication strategy was developed. Further dissemination work included the start of a series of newsletters, set-up of social media accounts, a press release on the international day of soils, and filming in Denmark for the development of the SoilCare film.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

SOILCARE will derive important new insights about the adoption of SICS, by exploring how the dynamics of trust influence adoption through collaborative learning processes. In addition, we will assess the performance of incentives, as well as policies. This information will be used at farm scale, Study Site scale and European scale, and will be combined with an assessment of CS. Analyses will include scenarios of socio-economic developments, such as changing public awareness on the importance of sustainable production. In combination, the analyses carried out in SOILCARE will provide increased insight in bio-physical, economic, social and political barriers for adoption, and in ways that can help to overcome such barriers.

A systematic investigation of benefits, limitations and drawbacks of SICS is necessary to determine under which circumstances which CS may be used to best effect. SOILCARE will develop such an approach and will apply it in its Study Sites. Various factors, which all vary across Europe, influence which soil-improving CS are suitable in a certain location. These factors include pedo-climatic zone, type of problem that threatens soil quality and crop production, bio-physical conditions and socio-economic and political conditions. Therefore, environmental assessment needs to be combined with economic, social and policy assessments.

The main impacts of SOILCARE will be that i) scientifically proven SICS have been identified across Study Sites, representing the different pedo-climatic zones and different socio-economic conditions in Europe, ii) that insight is obtained on how barriers to adopt SICS can be overcome, and iii) 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 thus competitiveness of European farmers. SoilCare work is based on 16 Study Sites spread throughout Europe, and results will be upscaled to EU scale, integrating with factors operating at EU-scale, such as policy development, macro-economy, societal developments and climate change.

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