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Nurture the soil – it’s worth it

Profitability and sustainability can go hand in hand in crop production – especially if cropping systems that protect the soil are developed and applied. This is the basis for a new EU project with the participation of researchers from Aarhus University.

[Translate to English:] Foto: Det betaler sig at værne om jorden; forskere fra Aarhus Universitet deltager i et EU-projekt med dette formål for øje. Foto: Janne Hansen

Researchers from Aarhus University are partners in a new EU project that aims to test and promote soil-improving cropping systems across Europe. The project is based on the concept that profitability and sustainability in crop production can be combined and improved. 

European crop production faces great challenges: Farmers need to maintain their competitiveness while at the same time minimising negative climate and environmental impacts. It may seem like a difficult task to combine these two things but it is possible if farmers apply, among other things, cropping systems that contribute to nurturing the soil instead of depleting it. 

- For generations an increasingly higher level of production has been maintained by increasing input, such as nutrients, pesticides and energy consumption for soil tillage. This has contributed to masking losses in productivity due to reduced soil quality, says one of the partners in the project Professor Tommy Dalgaard from the Department of Agroecology at Aarhus University. 

Research-based development of new systems

Agricultural soil quality is threatened by human actions that lead to erosion, compaction, loss of organic matter, pollution and loss of biodiversity. 

The new project, SoilCare, aims to alleviate these problems via research-based development of soil-improving cropping systems in a collaboration between farmers, businesses and researcher across Europe. 

The term cropping system refers to the crop farmer’s choices, including crop type, crop rotations, and agronomic management techniques such as tillage practice, strip sowing, irrigation, fertilisation, plant protection and planting of hedgerows.   

Part of the project involves comparing differing soil-improving cropping systems and thereafter identifying and testing promising systems that have a positive effect on profitability and sustainability in 16 different locations in Europe, including Denmark. 

The various locations represent different soil conditions, climatic zones and socio-economic conditions. In Denmark, the trials will take place at Aarhus University’s research stations in Askov and Jyndevad in collaboration with commercial farms in Jutland and on the island of Samsø, and will include organic and conventional farms as well as various systems for reduced tillage. 

The particular problems that Danish agriculture experiences are reduced soil organic matter, soil compaction, erosion, and nutrient loss (nitrogen and phosphorous), and there is a need to investigate how to improve the incorporation of these issues into advisory and agricultural practice.  

Barriers in the form of legislation and market conditions as well as knowledge and access to new technology can stand in the way for the willingness of farmers to apply new cropping systems and techniques. The project will therefore, in collaboration with farmers, their advisors and other key stakeholders, analyse how these barriers can be minimised and overcome. The researchers will also evaluate the possibilities for and the effects of upscaling the techniques and systems to national and European levels. In this connection, Samsø will be used as a platform for illustrating the potential for and effects of a more sustainable development. 

Facts about SoilCare

Partners: 28 partners from 17 different European countries, including the Department of Agroecology at Aarhus University

Project leadership: Wageningen Environmental Research, the Netherlands

Duration: Until 2021.

Budget: 7.6 million euros

Funding: 7.0 million euros from EU’s Horizon 2020 programme

Read more at: www.soilcare-project.eu

For more information please contact: 

Professor Tommy Dalgaard, Department of Agroecology, email: tommy.dalgaard@agro.au.dk, telephone: +45 8715 7746, mobile: +45 2070 6132