Responsible partner: »Estonian University of Life Sciences, Institute of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (IAES) 
Authors: Endla Reintam, Alar Astover, Merit Sutri, Gheorghe Stegarescu
iSQAPERiS editor: Jane Brandt


Contents table
1. Infographics and videos
2. Study site description
3. Participation of stakeholders in the iSQAPER research programme
4. Research tasks
5. Long-term impact of iSQAPER's research programme in the study site

1. Infographics and videos

Tartumaa uurimisrühm tegi lühivideoid ja infograafikuid, et kirjeldada piirkonna muldasid ja maakasutust ning seda, kuidas erinevad kohalikud põllumajanduspraktikad mõjutavad mulla kvaliteeti.

A series of short videos and infographics were made by the Tartumaa study site team to describe the soils and land use in the area and the way in which a number of locally used management practices benefit soil quality.

  Videod  Videos 

»Tartumaa uurimisala, Eesti
Haritava maa osatähtsus on Eestis alla 20%, kus peamiselt kasvatatakse teravilja-, silo- ja söödakultuure. On intensiivselt majandatud segatootmisettevõtteid, aga ka mahepõllumajanduslikke ettevõtteid, mis peamiselt asuvad läänerannikul ja saartel.
(eesti keeles)

»Tartumaa study site, Estonia
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.
(in English)

»Eesti mullad
Eesti mullad on ohustatud degradeerumise poolt, mis võib olla tingitud negatiivsest toiteelementide bilansist, orgaanilise aine mineraliseerumisest, tihenemisest, erosioonist ja hapestumisest.
(eesti keeles)

»Soils in Estonia
Estonian soils face a number of degradation problems including unbalanced use of nutrients, decomposition of organic matter, compaction, erosion and acidification.
(in English)

video 20 screenshot sq »Minimeeritud mullaharimine, EE
Minimeeritud (või vähendatud) mullaharimist rakendatakse Eestis laialdaselt. Sobiva külvikorraga säilib optimaalne struktuur, paraneb vee infiltratsioon ja vähenevad tihenemine, kütuse- ja tööjõukulud.
(eesti keeles)

»Minimum tillage, EE
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.
(in English)

video 21 screenshot sq »Otsekülv, EE
Otsekülvi tehnoloogia peamisteks eelisteks on lühem tööaeg, vähenenud kütuse- ja tootmiskulud, aga ka parem mullastruktuur. Mullaharimine võimaldab nõrgestada haiguseid ja kahjureid, mistõttu otsekülvi tehnoloogia korral kasutatakse rohkem pestitsiide võrreldes minimeeritud ja künnipõhise mullaharimisega.
(eesti keeles)

»No-tillage, EE
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.
(in English)

  Infograafika Infographics
video 04 screenshot sq »Maakasutus Eestis
Eestis on intensiivselt majandatud segafarme, mis keskenduvad piimatootmisele ja taimekasvatusele, kuid on ka mahepõllumajanduslikke ettevõtteid, millel on mulla kvaliteedile teistsugune mõju.
(eesti keeles)

»Land use in Estonia
In Estonia, there are intensively managed mixed farms focussed on dairy farming and crop production, but there are also alternative and organic farms located on the west coast and on the islands which have different impacts on soil quality.
(in English)

video 04 screenshot sq »Eesti mullad
Kesk- ja Lõuna-Eestis, kus asuvad iSQAPERi uurimisalad, on kõige rohkem leetjaid ja näivleetunud muldi. Need mullad on ohustatud toiteelementide sisalduse vähenemise, orgaanilise aine mineraliseerumise, tihenemise, erosiooni ja hapestumise poolt.
(eesti keeles)

»Soils of Estonia
In central and southern Estonia, where the iSQAPER study site is located, the main soil types are Luvisols. The degradation threats faced by these soils include unbalanced use of nutrients, decomposition of organic matter, compaction, erosion and acidification.
(in English)

video 04 screenshot sq »Keskkonnasõbralik majandamine Eestis - minimeeritud mullaharimine
Minimeeritud harimissügavusega mullaharimine on tehnoloogia, mille korral mulda ei pöörata ümber ning tavaliselt kobestatakse mulda ainult kuni 10–18 cm sügavuseni. Eestis rakendati seda tehnoloogiat esmakordselt vähem kui 10 aastat tagasi ning praeguseks kasvatatakse 2/3 teraviljast antud mullaharimissüsteemi kasutades.
(eesti keeles)

»Agricultural friendly management in Estonia - reduced tillage
Reduced (minimum) tillage is a tillage method that does not turn the soil over; usually, only the upper 10-18 cm of the soil surface is tilled. The technology was implemented in Estonia less than 10 years ago and already 2/3 of cereals are cultivated by minimum tillage technology.
(in English)

video 04 screenshot sq »Otsekülvi tehnoloogia kasutamine Eestis
Otsekülvi kasutatakse rohumaade rajamiseks ja põllukultuuride kasvatamiseks aastast aastasse nii, et mulda ei segata mullaharimisega.
(eesti keeles)

»No-till farming in Estonia
No-till farming (also called zero tillage or direct drilling) is a way of growing crops or pasture from year to year without disturbing the soil through tillage.
(in English)

 2. Study site description


Estonia is situated north-east of Europe, more precisely located between 57°30′34″N to 59°49′12″N and from 21°45′ 49″E to 28°12′44″E. It is bounded on the north by the Gulf of Finland (an inlet of the Baltic Sea), on the east by Russia, on the south by Latvia, and on the west by the Baltic Sea. The mean air temperature in Estonia is +4.5–6.0°C, mean annual precipitation 600–700 mm and the vegetative period generally lasts for 170–185 days. The climate is Nemorial to Boreal. The amount of precipitation is more than two times higher than evapotranspiration. Snow cover is characterized by large spatial and temporal variations (75-135 days: from the beginning of January to the end of March). Estonian climatic conditions are favourable for mobilization of humus intensive biological weathering and turnover of substances in the plant-soil system.

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Main farming systems and typical agricultural management activities in the study area

According to the FADN report (2018), on average 44% of the agricultural land was under forage crops, 38% was used to produce cereals, 8% was occupied by oilseed crops and 7% by other field crops, while 3% of the land use was left fallow. Most of the intensively managed farms are in Central Estonia (dairy and cereal) and alternative and organic farms can be found more on the west coast of Estonia and the islands. There are mainly mixed types of farms in the study area, where the main income comes from animal husbandry and crop production. However, dairy farming or farms that are specialized in crop production dominate, which can be both, organically or intensively managed. In big farms, grasslands are mainly fertilized with slurry and mineral fertilizers and not fertilized at all in some smaller farms. The cutting intensity is on average 3 cuts per season. Crop rotations are based mainly on cereals (spring- and winter wheat, barley, oat), oil rape and red clover timothy mixture. Soil tillage is a mixture of the conventional plough and reduced chisel-based, less no-tillage. Also, precision agriculture techniques are used in some farms.

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Characteristic soils and soil quality monitoring practice

The soils are highly variable and are impacted by their parent material, texture, water regime and types. There’s white pebble till mostly in Northern and Western Estonia, yellow-grey calcareous till in Central Estonia and red-brown till with variable calcareousness in Southern Estonia. The rock content of soils can be quite high. In Central and Southern Estonia where the study area is located, the main soil types are Luvisols with variable texture and calcareousness (Reintam et al., 2001). The share of Gleysols and Histosols is quite large among Estonian soils. Over 10% of agricultural land is on peat or peaty soils (Astover et al., 2019). Grasslands are located mainly on gleyic soils and Gleysols. The dominant soil texture is sandy loam.

SS10 fig04 SS10 fig04

There are 30 permanent agricultural soil survey points in Estonia, where the following measures are repeated at 5 yearly intervals:

  1. From the humus horizon: depth (cm), pHKCl, P, K, Ca, Mg, Cu, Mn, B (mg/kg), humus (%), C-org by Dumas (dry combustion), dry bulk density (g/cm3) and porosity (pF1.8), estimation of compactness.
  2. From the soil pits: horizons, their thickness (depth, cm), pHKCl, P, K, Ca, Mg, Cu, Mn, B (mg/kg), total-N (%), humus (%), C-org Dumas method (dry combustion), texture.

From 5 to 6 survey points per year, pesticide residues, heavy metals (Cd, Pb, Cr, Cu, Hg, Ni, Zn) and soil biota (earthworms abundance, mass, species; microbial mass and respiration) are surveyed.

Previous research and innovation actions on soil improvement and monitoring

Current applied research in agriculture (financed by Estonian Ministry of Agriculture) in Estonia include:

  1. Conventional and organic management effect on soil fertility;
  2. Effect of intensity of tillage on slurry fertilized soils;
  3. Green manure plants effect on soil in conventional and organic farming;
  4. Alternative fertilizer use in conventional and organic farming;
  5. Use of soil map applications in agriculture;
  6. Biowaste compost use in agriculture;
  7. Development of humus balance model;
  8. Implementation of soil maps and databases for sustainable land use and agricultural production;
  9. Optimized habitat-specific fertilization with plant nutrients according to the environmental sensitivity by implementing electronic soil databases.

Since 2008, the soil compaction survey restarted in Estonia on 15 fields (repeated in 2013), where the typical parameters such as bulk density and texture, and the content of air filled pores at pF1.8 was measured.

3. Participation of stakeholders in the iSQAPER research programme

The local stakeholders listed in Table 1 were involved throughout the duration of iSQAPER in a number of research tasks including: providing experimental sites for the soil quality assessment and agricultural management practice evaluation; testing and evaluating SQAPP; attending demonstration workshops; (and providing venues for and hosting the field visits for the iSQAPER plenary meeting).

Table 1: Local stakeholders involved in the iSQAPER research programme

Stakeholder type Locations Institution  Number and gender M/F Role
Farmers, land managers Tartu County, Valga County, Põlva County, Rapla County, Lääne-Viru County, Võru County, Järva County, Hiiu County Farms  18M/5F Land owner and land manager
Researchers Tartu, Järvamaa Estonian University of Life Sciences, Estonian Crop Research Institute 5M/6F Researcher

4. Research tasks

Soil quality assessment and agricultural management practice evaluation

Based on WOCAT database (, iSQAPER selected 18 promising agricultural management practices (AMPs) with potential to improve soil quality (»Agricultural management practices in the iSQAPER study sites). Fourteen examples of a number of these AMPs were identified in the Tartumaa study site that conformed to the following criteria:

  1. the promising management practice has been implemented for at least 3 years;
  2. at least 2 different soil types are represented; and
  3. at least in 2 different first level Farming Systems (arable, permanent, grazing) are represented.

For each AMP plot, nearby control plots were also identified where the practice has not changed.

Table 2: AMPs identified in the Tartumaa study site. Climatic region: Boreal to sub-boreal

Plot number Farming system  Farming system detail Soil type AMP general description AMP number*
10.1 Pasture Intensive Luvisols Manuring & composting; Change of land use practices / intensity level 7-18
10.2 Pasture Intensive Luvisols Permanent soil cover / Removing less vegetation cover 3
10.3 Pasture Intensive Luvisols Permanent soil cover / Removing less vegetation cover; Manuring & composting 3-7
10.4 Arable Permanently irrigated land - Cereals Luvisols Permanent soil cover / Removing less vegetation cover; Manuring & composting 3-7
10.5 Pasture Intensive Luvisols Permanent soil cover / Removing less vegetation cover; Manuring & composting 3-7
10.6 Arable Permanently irrigated land - Cereals Luvisols Manuring & composting; Crop rotation / Control or change of species composition 7-9
10.7 Arable Permanently irrigated land - Cereals Cambisols Min-till; Crop rotation / Control or change of species composition 2-9
10.8 Arable Permanently irrigated land - Cereals Gleysols Min-till 2
10.9 Arable Permanently irrigated land - Cereals Luvisols Min-till 2
10.10 Arable Permanently irrigated land - Cereals Luvisols Min-till ; Crop rotation / Control or change of species composition 2-9
10.11 Arable Permanently irrigated land - Cereals Luvisols No-till 1
10.12 Pasture Intensive Histosols Permanent soil cover / Removing less vegetation cover 3
10.13 Pasture Extensive Histosols Permanent soil cover / Removing less vegetation cover 3
10.14 Arable Non- irrigated land - Cereals Luvisols No-till ; Crop rotation / Control or change of species composition 1-9

*Note: see »Assessing effect of management practices on soil quality - experimental framework for the full list and descriptions of the 18 promising agricultural management practices.

A first field campaign was conducted in 2016 to evaluate the soil quality in each of the paired AMP-control plots, using visual soil assessment methods (»Visual soil and plant quality assesment). The results from this and all the other study sites were combined to determine which AMPs can be shown to have a proven positive effect on soil quality, see »Assessing effect of management practices on soil quality - experimental results.

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Those practices that are innovative for Estonia were also described and added to the WOCAT database

The soil assessment campaign was repeated in 2018 on the two paired plots highlighted in green in Table 2 (10.12: Permanent soil cover / Removing less vegetation cover and 10.14: No-till; Crop rotation / Control or change of species composition) with laboratory-based measurements added to the visual soil assessments. The aim was to investigate

  • how measurements of soil quality parameters obtained from the visual assessments compared to those obtained from laboratory measurements;
  • if different AMPs affected different soil quality parameters in different ways;
  • and what impact the AMPs had on the principal soil threats.

For details of the assessment analysis methods and the results from this and all study sites see »Impact of promising agricultural management practices.

As a result of this extended analysis, the example of No-till/ Crop rotation / Control or change of species composition that was exemplified in Plot 10.14 (which combined no-till with a different crop rotation including permanent cover and legumes in the rotation) was finally selected to demonstrate the positive impact management practice can have on soil quality (see »Demonstration events in the study sites).

Estonia 10.14
Soil properties
Estonia 10.4 threat
Soil threats

This practice addresses soil compaction. The VSA results show a lower soil stability under the AMP but a better earthworm count and soil colour (and probably a better mottle score). All other soil structure quality indicators were the same as the control (which was conventially tilled with a different crop rotation). Measured bulk density is a little higher under the AMP but that does not seem to be directly tied to a loss of soil structure quality. Other measured properties show minimal differences from the control.

SQAPP development, testing and evaluation

The beta version of SQAPP was evaluated by stakeholders at 3 locations in Estonia. Participants were asked a series of questions relating to their expectations of SQAPP and the relevance of the soil parameters included in SQAPP, the assessment of soil threats and the suitability of the app's recommendations to their local context. The feedback and comments were combined with those from the other study sites and used in the further development of SQAPP. For details of the responses from all study sites see »Stakeholder feedback and SQAPP development

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The soil quality app was tested in the class of Protection and Sustainable Use of Soils by masters students in 2019. A Master’s Thesis was written about the accuracy of SQAPP on Estonian production fields (Sutri 2020). The results showed that the accuracy of SQAPP was highest regarding soil pH and bulk density compared to other measured parameters. The app overestimated the content of soil organic carbon and total nitrogen on mineral soils and underestimated on Gleysols and Histosols. The results suggested that the accuracy was low particularly on Gleysols on Histosols.

Demonstration workshops

On 13 September 2019 a demonstration event was organised in the village of Meeri in Tartu county to present the major findings of iSQAPER to stakeholders and to demonstrate no-tillage and direct seeding as a management practice of proven benefit to soil quality. Also, a practical demonstration of visual soil assessment was conducted. The event was attended by 72 participants.

SS10 fig07 SS10 fig07 SS10 fig08 SS10 fig08

The results from this demonstration event and those held in the other study sites are summarised in »Demonstration events in the study sites.

A leaflet describing no tillage and direct seeding was prepared to accompany the demonstrations.

»Otsekülv (direct seeding), Estonia

4. Long-term impact of iSQAPER's research programme in the study site

Taking account discussions with the stakeholders and feedback from the various research tasks and events in which they took part, it is anticipated that the iSQAPER research programme could have a lasting legacy in the Tartumaa study site as indicated in Table 3.

Table 3: Activities in which iSQAPER's research programme could potentially have a lasting impact in the Tartumaa study site

Activity Impact level: 0 - no impact, 1 - barely noticeable to 5 - important visible impact     
0 1 2 3 4 5
Research results influencing farming practice       x    
Uptake of recommended AMPs         x  
Regular use of SQAPP     x      
Development of new or enhancement of existing stakeholder networks     x      
The involvement of new stakeholder types in existing networks       x    




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