Main authors: Fernando Teixeira, Gottlieb Basch
iSQAPERiS Editor: Jane Brandt


Demonstration sites are often used to promote discussion inform land use


good practice is frequently asked for in EU proposals, so perhaps we have some recommendations for how to select themDemonstrations of agricultural management practices should have a scientific approach; that is, the ability to test any claim should be possible. If the number of factors controlling an observed effect is too high, the results from previous trials should be presented to allow proper reasoning on the effect of individual factors and possible interactions.

The main results of WP6 are the following:

  1. Soil properties (measurable soil properties: physical, chemical and biological), climate (moisture and temperature regime) and soil management practices are intertwined, and soil morphological properties (soil structure) can be reasoned as an emergent property.
  2. Soil management practices’ effect can be assessed by visual soil quality indicators (effects on “soil structure and consistency” and “soil porosity”).
  3. Logistic regression can be used to predict visual soil quality indicators’ scores, at different pedoclimatic zones, based on few soil properties (texture, pH and SOM) and climate variables (this is the tool).

Recommendations on the selection of demonstration sites

Demonstration sites play many roles; they can be used to validate a practice/ to create awareness/ to enroll participants in meaningful debate (learning)/ to communicate innovative practices/ etc. Depending on the goal of the selection of demonstration sites, there are many approaches that can be taken to set some criteria for that selection. This goals may encompass, but are not restricted to:

1. Selection of demonstration fields with innovative soil management practices with the goal of promote these practices outside the pedoclimatic zones where they were tested. In this scenario, the main beneficiaries of the demonstrations are researchers and technicians, and, to a less extent, farmers who possess the knowledge, the means, and initiative (risk taking) to adopt them. The innovative practices will/should be tested (scientifically) by the beneficiaries before any grand-scale implementation. Thus, the innovative practices should be coherent and scientifically sound. This is particularly true for complex system changes (like the implementation of no-till), or when different practices are combined empirically, locally. The sheer number of factors to control when implementing the innovative practice at other locations may be sufficient to discourage any attempt or may force to take a long, time and resources consuming process; this explains why the adoption of innovative practices (such as no-till) takes time (problems must be scientifically solved), and when farmers quickly adopt this practices, it explains the rate of failures (abandonment of the practice) and/or the search of empirical solutions that sometimes perpetuates misdoings (e.g. topsoil inversion of no-tilled soils at regular time intervals to cope with soil surface’s high bulk density, pests or weed management). A first criterion for the selection of demonstration fields for soil management practices should be the existence of a clear objective (e.g. to deal with a specific soil threat, or to increase the yields, and so on) and avoid demonstration fields of management practices that are complex approaches (too many factors) to answer to a multitude of objectives (one solution solves-all approach). Thus, a second criterion should be the existence of scientific studies supporting any claim, both in sufficient number and comprehensive (covering much of the variables that one could expect to be affected) to allow an informed reasoning on the problems one may encounter at their one location … otherwise it will be time and resources wasted. Another aspect, a third criterion: if a soil management practice (or a combination of management practices) was found empirically to give better results than the standard local practice, and no scientific assessment performed, a demonstration field should only be considered if replications exist, at different locations in the farm and/or at different farms, to account for variability, and the results reported for comparison purposes (the effect measured).

2. Selection of demonstration fields with innovative soil management practices with the goal of promote these practices locally. In this scenario, the main beneficiaries are local technicians and farmers; they are familiar with local soils, climate and production systems. The main concern should be the visible/measurable effects of whatever practice one is promoting; thus a criterion should be to select demonstration fields aged enough to allow observing (to measure) the effect(s) desired with that practice. How many years are needed to observe the effect will depend on the management practice (e.g. results from soil cover with plant residues on soil erosion are immediate and readily observable (measurable); on the other hand, for example the effects of no-till on soil structure may take many years). Another aspect to be considered should be to compare, simultaneously, the new soil management practice’s effect with a local standard practice’s effect. Another criterion, should be the size of the demonstration fields. Depending on the nature of the demonstration, size of the plots may matter (a small plot may be perceived by the beneficiaries as tendered like a garden, not revealing the full extent of problems (variation) one may find at large-scale).

3. Selection of demonstration fields with innovative soil management practices according to the demonstration purpose (to illustrate a process (e.g. soil cover and erosion phenomena), a tillage system (e.g. no-till), etc.).

4. Selection of demonstration fields with innovative soil management practices according to targeted beneficiaries.

How to work with stakeholders in identifying and demonstrate examples of good practice

The identification of good practices and the demonstration of good practices are two separate problems but that are closely connected. The identification of good practices can be achieved by surveys directed to farmers, to local technicians (expert knowledge), and others. Key to these surveys would be to clearly identify the problems/opportunities these management practices were designed to deal with; i.e. a clear identification of the objective (and thus, providing an idea of what is the effect and how it can be measured).

When these purported good practices were obtained empirically, to demonstrate these good practices stakeholders cannot take the word of the farmer (or of other proposer of the management practice) at their face value. Some sort of measurements must be made by the proposer (a simple claim is not enough) to account for the variation of soil properties, landscape features, etc. (a one location measurement, even if repeated yearly, is not sufficient, because the effect can change dramatically with location and the overall effect, when transposed to the whole farm or region, may be none or poorer than the standard regional practice, and thus, the practice should be confined to the identified good conditions). At this regard, how farmers should proceed to test at farm level, should be the subject of extensive thought, not only to produce general guide-lines but also on how it could be operationalized


** Further notes

  • For the purposes of the Toolkit, we probably need to rewrite this
Gottlieb/Fernando: We are not sure in what way we can present the results from WP6 as a tool, so need your input. The use of demonstration sites to spread good practice is frequently asked for in EU proposals, so perhaps we have some recommendations for how to select them? Options might include, how to work with stakeholders to identify and demonstrate examples of good practice, criteria for selecting examples (e.g. the practice has to have been used for 3 years to see any impact), the importance of evaluating a practice in a diversity of conditions before it is promoted. Or there may be some other results from WP6 that can be highlighted as a tool.
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