Note: All videos can also be viewed on the iSQAPER YouTube channel
iSQAPER will provide information about how to improve soil quality while maintaining or increasing crop productivity. Through a mobile phone app land users will be able to access data on their soils and recommendations for management practices.
Importance of good soil quality
Soil is a resource that that takes a long time to form and can easily degrade. Soil is not renewable on a human time scale. Soil provides us with food and regulates terrestrial ecosystems. Soil conservation is very important to maintain its quality and properties. The main objective of Interactive Soil Quality Assessment is to maintain soil quality for sustainable agriculture. For good health we must maintain the quality of the soil. Take care of soil to improve your life quality.
Assessing soil quality
Long term field trials of wheat and rice cultivation have taken place in the iSQAPER study site in Suining, China. Working with the farmers, iSQAPER scientists have monitored many different of soil quality under different agricultural practices.
Agricultural management practices that enhance soil quality
Soil quality is determined by a number of intrinsic properties as well as management practices resulting from human intervention.
This is a simulation of abundant summer rain and its impact on the tilled soils in terms of water infiltration capacity and erodibility. The result of this simulation is presented very clearly. It shows the difference between long-term conventional versus conservation soil tillage.
Agricultural soil are under pressure from different agricultural management. For example the lack of organic inputs, heavy ploughing, monoculture and the use of agrochemicals. This pressure can negatively influence soil life, for example earthworms. This can lead to a decrease in soil structure and an increase in soil erosion. Different and alternative agricultural practices such as organic matter input reduced tillage, the use of diverse crop rotation and the use of organic agriculture can create a favourable environment for soil life. In this way, increasing the number of earthworms and increasing the health of our soils.
Agricultural management practices that mimic natural ecosystems (such as minimum soil disturbance, permanent soil cover and plant or crop diversity) are the most promising for increasing soil quality.
No or minimum tillage practices reduce surface and sediment runoff, increase soil water storage, increase organic matter content and result in higher biodiversity and lower olive oil production costs.
Because they have a wide number of positive properties, catch crops represent an important element in sustainable integrated production on arable land under changing climate conditions. They are extremely useful in organic production, where nitrogen and carbon management is particularly important.
Returning straw to the field, rather than burning it, improves soil structure and increases soil organic matter and nutrients.
In areas with no access to lime, animal manure and crop residues can provide an alterative means of reducing soil acidity.
Minimum (or reduced) tillage is now widely practiced in Estonia. Within appropriate crop rotations it can maintain soil structure, improve water infiltration and reduce compaction, fuel and labour costs.
The main benefits of no-till technology are reduced working time, fuel costs and produce costs, but also better soil structure. However, there is increased use of pesticides, pests and diseases compared to minimum and convention tillage.
Interviewed by a masters student, a farmer discusses how he composts and uses animal waste on his organic farm in the Ljubljana study site, Slovenia.
Biochar is increasingly being used to improve soil quality. It increases porosity, aeration and water retention capacity. It optimizes pH, increases the cation-exchange capacity and the soil's adsorption capability, reducing nutrient leaching.
Introducing the iSQAPER study sites
Farmer Jean-Pierre Lemesle introduces GAEC de la Branchette an organic dairy farm in Brittany, France and one of the iSQAPER research project's study sites.
Farmer Sebastian Podstawka describes how he farms the only organic hop plantation in Poland. He uses compost, vegetation chips and intercropping to improve soil quality; microbial preparations and plant extracts for pest control; and plant fertilizers grown on the farm. He says that yields from his organically grown hops are comparable to conventionally grown ones, while he also gets improvements in soil structure and aggregation. There is no tillage pan and soil water regulation is also improved.
The physical characteristics of Crete, elevation, slopes, rainfall, parent material and soils, combined with historic land management, make much of the island fragile and prone to desertification.
The presence of rock fragments on the soil surface has a significant effect on the reduction of erosion, protecting soils from degradation and conservation of soil water. This can result in an increase in crop production in Mediterranean climate conditions.
Less than 20% of the territory of Estonia is arable land in which the dominant uses are cereals, forage and fodder crops. There are intensively managed mixed dairy and arable farms, but also alternative and organic farms on the west coast and islands.
Estonian soils face a number of degradation problems including unbalanced use of nutrients, decomposition of organic matter, compaction, erosion and acidification.
Zala study site is in a dominantly agricultural part of Hungary boardering Lake Balaton. To protect the lake, measures against soil erosion are taken as well as appropriate and moderate use of fertilizers.