Main authors: Abdallah Alaoui, Gudrun Schwilch
iSQAPERiS editor: Jane Brandt
Source document: Alaoui, A., Schwilch, G. (2019) Database of currently applied and promising agricultural management practices. iSQAPER Project Deliverable 5.3, 14 pp


Eighteen agricultural management practices (including no and minimum tillage, mulching, green manure and crop rotation) have been investigated in detail in the 14 iSQAPER study sites. Soil quality (assessed both visually and using laboratory based measurements) was measured in 138 locations where plots on which the AMP had been used for at least 3 years was compared with a similar plot under conventional management. For full details of the experiments and the results see the »Sustainable land management section.

However, in order that SQAPP can make recommendations for a wider range of soil and land management conditions than those that exist just in the iSQAPER case study sites, the initial list of agricultural management practices (AMPs) selected from the »WOCAT database was extended. It is from this list of 78 AMPs that SQAPP makes its recommendations for land management practices that might increase soil quality in any given location »How are the managment practice recommendations made?

Table 3. List of AMPs from which SQAPP selects its recommendations

AMP broad class AMP category   AMP Description
Terrain management    Cross-slope barriers  1 Bunds A bund is a single line of stones or earth along a contour. It helps to control erosion by water and allows surface water to infiltrate into soils which can lead to better crop yields.
2 Terraces Terracing refers to building a mechanical structure of a channel and a bank or a single terrace wall, such as an earthen ridge or a stone wall aiming to achieve a change in slope profile to reduce runoff and erosion.
Runoff control  3 Half moon terraces Half-moon terraces are stone or earth embankments built in the shape of a semi circle with the tips of the bund on the contour. They can be used for individual shrubs or trees, or arranged in staggered orientation in rows so that overflow from one row will run into the next downslope. Their purpose is to collect and concentrate surface runoff to increase water availability for plant growth.
4 Gully rehabilitation Gully rehabilitation serves to mitigate gully development or rehabilitate degraded lands. Frequently, the aim is to reduce flow velocity and/or protect gully banks and heads, through construction of checkdams. Whereas interventions might be focused on on-site effects, they are often undertaken with off-site interests in mind.
Soil management              Tillage       5 Minimum tillage Minimum tillage is a soil conservation system with a goal of minimum soil manipulation necessary for a successful crop production. It is a tillage method that does not turn the soil over. It is alternative to intensive tillage, which changes the soil structure using ploughs.
6 No-tillage No-tillage is an agricultural technique which increases infiltration of rainfall and organic matter retention and cycling of nutrients in the soil. No-tillage farming is a way of growing crops from year to year without disturbing the soil through tillage. 
7 Contour ploughing Contour ploughing is ploughing soil along contours to decrease velocity of runoff and thus soil erosion by concentrating water in the downward furrows and increase infiltration rates so that more water is kept in place. It is especially important at the beginning of the rainy season when biological conservation effects are poor.
8 Subsoiling Subsoiling is a tillage method loosening subsoil with minimum disturbance of the topsoil.  This method is primaririly used to control ploughing pans. 
9 Roughening the soil surface Roughening soil surface is a temporary erosion control practice which involves increasing relief of a bare soil surface with horizontal grooves by either stairstepping (running parallel to the contour of the land) or using construction equipment to track the surface to reduce velocity of wind and runoff as erosion agents, increase infiltration, and trap sediment.
10 Seedbed placement Seedbed placement is an agronomic method which seeks to create more favourable environmental conditions for germination and crop development by raising the planting level, to avoid poor drainage,  areas of highest salt accumulation or strong wind erosion. Seedbeds can also be used for germination only, for later transplanting into a field, and is also used as a practice to facilitate harvesting of root crops.
11 Straw interlayer burial Straw interlayer burial is a measure to bury a straw layer in the soil as an isolation layer to block salts moving upwards. A straw interlayer is buried at 20-40cm beneath the soil surface by tillage with some 6 tonnes of straw per hectare from e.g., maize straw.
Traffic management   12 Avoidance of traffic Avoidance is the most desirable option to avoid soil compaction where it is physically and economically possible: do not plough wet soil and do not drive machines, carts or livestock on a rain-soaked field.
13 Controlled traffic Controlled traffic is a method to reduce soil compaction by confining all heavy traffic to specific lanes through crop fields year after year. It can be used as an element of precision agriculture.
14 Respect wheel load carrying capacity Wheel load-carrying capacity is the maximum wheel load for a specific tyre and inflation pressure that does not result in soil stress in excess of soil strength. It is a useful and easily interpreted parameter for portraying compaction risk, and is therefore an effective guide for preventing soil compaction.
Soil replacement 15 Claying soils Claying soils is the addition and mixing of (specific types of) clay to soils to improve plant growth and health. The type and quantity of clay to be added depends on the current soil composition, the climate, and type of plant. 
Soil amendments  16 Soil conditioners Soil conditioners can stabilise a soil after application by a thin protective layer. The stabiliser can fast protect soil surface from wind and water erosion and/or minimize soil evaporation and hold for some weeks. In use are products based on liquid polymers, lignite wax or by-products of the sugar and paper industry like condensed soluble molasses or cellulose sludge.
17 Liming Liming is the application of calcium- and magnesium-rich materials in various forms, including marl, chalk, limestone, or hydrated lime. In acid soils, these materials react as a base and neutralize soil acidity. This often improves plant growth and increases the activity of soil bacteria, but oversupply may result in harm to plant life.
Conservation agriculture 18 Conservation agriculture Conservation agriculture (CA) is an agricultural practice to achieve sustainable and profitable agriculture through the application of the three CA principles: minimal soil disturbance, permanent soil cover and crop rotations. CA systems often replace ploughing as mechanical weed control measure with herbicide application, which may lead to soil pollution. 
Vegetation management             Vegetation cover   19 Permanent soil cover in orchards Permanent soil cover is keeping the soil surface continuously covered with previous-crop residues or cover crops to protect soil from physical impact of water, wind and direct insolation (exposure to the sun). It is relevant for agricultural land that would otherwise have a bare surface (i.e. under permanent crops).
20 Cover crops Cover crops are crops planted primarily to manage soil erosion by covering the soil after harvest of a primary crop, or as undergrowth between crops. Cover crops also may increase soil organic matter, improve water infiltration, and provide species diversity in cropping systems.
21 Rangeland rehabilitation Rehabiliting degraded rangelands through fertilization and reseeding has been proved to be an effective approach to restore degraded rangeland. It includes application organic and inorganic fertilisers, and direct seeding with desirable seed of native perennial grasses. It enhances soil cover and recovers rangeland productivity.
Fallow management 22 Planted fallow Planted fallow is planting grasses or cover crops during fallow which can help increase fertility of degraded soils. Planted fallows are especially relevant if the process of natural vegetation recovery of fallow land is expected to be slow or undesirable. 
Vegetation bands    23 Vegetative strips Vegetative strips is planting grasses or shrubs along contours as a measure to control erosion, reduce and filter runoff and preserve sediment.
24 Shelterbelts A shelterbelt or windbreak is a plantation usually made up of one or more rows of trees or shrubs planted in such a manner as to provide shelter from wind and to protect soil from erosion. They are commonly planted in hedgerows around the edges of fields on farms.
25 Buffer zones/landscape elements A buffer zone/strip is an area of land maintained in permanent vegetation that helps to maintain soil and surface water quality. Buffer zones trap sediment, and enhance filtration of nutrients and pesticides by slowing down runoff that could enter the local surface waters. Landscape elements can also have important effects on pest control by offering habitats to predator populations.
26 Strip cropping Strip cropping is a method of farming which involves cultivating a field partitioned into long, narrow strips which are alternated in a crop rotation system. Strip cropping is mainly practiced to control pest populations by using crops which differ in pathogen susceptibility. It is sometimes also used when a slope is too steep or when there is no alternative method of preventing soil erosion.
Crop choice   27 Deep rooting crops Growing deep rooted crops can break up compacted soils and improve soil quality. Deep rooted crops can be perennial plant like alfalfa or annual plants like forage radish. As part of a crop rotation, deep rooted crops also enable a more balanced soil fertility management.
28 Intercropping Intercropping involves growing two or more crops in proximity. Intercropping is used to produce a greater yield on a given piece of land by making use of resources or ecological processes. Intercropping is also used as a method to spread production risk.
29 Growing halophytes Growing halophytes in salinized soils. The halophytes could be used for human food consumption, for forage and animal feeds, or as oilseed and energy crops; they could also be used for desalination and phytoremediation purposes.
Crop rotation/diversification 30 Crop rotation/diversification Crop rotation is the practice of growing a series of dissimilar or different types of crops in the same area in sequenced seasons so that the soil of a field is not used for only one set of nutrients. It reduces soil erosion, increases soil fertility and crop yield.
Multi-layered vegetation 31 Agroforestry Agroforestry integrates the use of woody perennials with agricultural crops and/or animals for a variety of benefits and services including better use of soil and water resources; multiple fuel, fodder and food products as well as habitats for associated species.
Water management                Diversion 32 Diverting water flow Diverting water flow refers to reshaping the farm field or farm field boundaries to divert water to other locations, e.g. to prevent the creation of rills and gullies.
Drainage   33 Intercepting drains Intercepting or cut-off drains aim to control soil moisture in fields by bypassing water flow before it enters the field. Cut-off drains in saline areas can divert and remove surface water that would otherwise become groundwater recharge. Surface drains should be stabilized with fencing and vegetation cover.
34 Submerged drains Submerged drains are drains installed in grassland on peatsoils with the aims to decrease soil subsidence and emission of CO2 and N2O due to the oxidation of peat soil, and to maintain suitable groundwater levels in fields for grassland production and grazing.
35 Drains Drainage channels or pipes are applied to get rid of excess water in the rooting zone to avoid plant damage.
Water harvesting  36 Planting pits Planting pits are a form of in situ rainwater harvesting method to collect rainwater towards plants and crops. Typically, holes are dug 50-100 cm apart from each other with a depth of 5-15 cm.
37 Ridge-furrow systems Ridge-furrow system is a agronomic system to direct water to furrows, creating more favourable growing conditions. The ridges are sometimes covered with plastic mulch for maximum water harvesting.
Water conservation 38 Inorganic mulching Inorganic mulching is covering the soil surface with non-organic materials e.g. plastic sheeting, gravel, or rubber chips to protect soil moisture, increase soil temperature and reduce soil erosion. It has also negative impact on soils e.g., polluting soils with plastic residues possibly affecting soil biota.
Irrigation    39 Drip irrigation Drip irrigation is a method of controlled irrigation in which water is slowly delivered to the root system of multiple plants. In this method water is either dripped onto the soil surface above the roots, or directly to the root zone. It is often preferred over flood (surface) irrigation because it helps to reduce water evaporation.
40 Flood irrigation Flood irrigation is an irrigation technique where water is applied and distributed over the soil surface by gravity. It is the most common form of irrigation throughout the world in many areas virtually unchanged for thousands of years but it implies that the water distribution is uncontrolled and therefore, inherently inefficient. 
41 Pivot irrigation Pivot irrigation is a method of crop irrigation in which equipment rotates around a pivot and crops are watered with sprinklers. A circular area centred on the pivot is irrigated, often creating a circular pattern in crops when viewed from above. 
42 Sprinkler irrigation Sprinkler irrigation is a method of applying irrigation water which is similar to natural rainfall. Water is distributed through a system of pipes usually by pumping. It is then sprayed into the air through sprinklers so that it breaks up into small water drops which fall to the ground.
Irrigation management  43 Leaching salts Leaching is a practical way of removing excess salts. This is effective only to the extent that water moves down through the soil profile and below the root zone. This is often accomplished by occasional excessive irrigation applications to dissolve, dilute and move the salts. 
44 Minimise saline water irrigation Minimising saline water irrigation is to minimise irrigation applications with saline water and the subsequent accumulation of salts in the soils. This can be done by using precipitation more effectively to reduce the amount of irrigation required.
Irrigation scheduling  45 Irrigation optimisation Irrigation optimization is a water-saving scheme by precise irrigation scheduling, defined loosely as the process used by irrigation system managers to determine the correct frequency and duration of watering therefore minimizing costs and maximizing yield.
46 Supplemental irrigation Supplemental irrigation is the addition of small amounts of water to essentially rain-fed crops during times when rainfall fails to provide sufficient moisture for normal plant growth, in order to improve and stabilize yields. It can overcome periods where plant available water in the soil profile is too low for optimal plant growth. 
Runoff conveyance 47 Grassed waterways A grassed waterway is a natural or constructed ditch, usually broad and more shallow than the rest of the field, used to conduct surface water from or through cropland. It enhances water infiltration and traps eroded sediment, and also helps in preventing the development of gullies in the fields.
Nutrient management          Organic amendments    48 Liquid manure or slurry Application of liquid manure is a common nutrient application strategy. It also forms a thin layer on the soil surface to protect soil from wind blowing. There is a potential risk of euthrophication, affecting water quality.
49 Apply animal manures Animal manure application is a commonly used measure to supply plant nutrients to a field. Addition of organic matter is generally a secondary objective, but is an important way to avoid soil organic matter depletion. There is a potential risk of euthrophication, affecting water quality.
50 Compost application Composting is decomposing organic matter for recycling as a fertilizer and soil amendment. Compost is a key ingredient in organic farming.
51 Biochar application Biochar is charcoal used as a soil amendment. Biochar is a stable solid, rich in carbon and can have benefits for plant growth. Like most charcoal, biochar is made from biomass via pyrolysis. 
Inorganic amendments 52 Inorganic fertiliser Application of inorganic fertilisers (either single or compound), e.g. N, P, and K or micro-nutrients like boron, copper, cobalt enhance plant growth. Overfertilization may lead to pollution.
Green manuring  53 Green manure Green manure or catch crops are rotation crops that are ploughed in (or spread out) rather than harvested, to provide organic matter for the following crop. Growing green manure crops are crucial for maintenance or improvement of soil fertility.
54 Leguminous crops Leguminous crops are those which belong to the pea family Leguminosae. The crops of this family generally have root nodules hosting rhizobium bacteria that fix nitrogen from the atmosphere. When plant residues decompose this fixed nitrogen can increase soil nitrogen content.
Retain crop residues 55 Retain crop residues Retain crop residues is keeping crop stubbles on the field, which could offer many benefits including increased soil organic matter and improved soil structure and plant nutrient cycling.
Mulching  56 Chipped branches Mulching with chipped branches or other pruning materials  is an effective soil management practice to reduce surface runoff, reserve soil moisture and control soil water erosion. It has several advantages compared to other mulching materials, such as low cost and material availability, especially in in orchards.
57 Straw mulch Straw mulch is a layer of straw applied to the surface of soil to conserve soil moisture, improve fertility and health of the soil, and reduce weed growth.
Pest management         Weed management   58 Mechanical weed control Mechanical weed control involves controlling weeds through weeding, mowing, cutting, and pulling. Other physical alternatives include using hot water or steam, or laser.
59 Chemical weed control Chemical weed management is controlling weeds with herbicide applications. There are emergence herbicides and contact herbicides. Application of herbicides can pollute soils and water, and might affect soil and aquatic life.
Pest management   60 Biological pest control Biological control is a method of controlling pests such as insects, mites, weeds and plant diseases using other organisms. It relies on predation, parasitism, herbivory, or other natural mechanisms, but typically also involves an active human management role.
61 Physical pest control Physical pest control is a method of getting rid of insects and small rodents by removing, trapping, setting up barriers, or kaolin sprays that will prevent further destruction of one's plants.
62 Chemical pest control Chemical pest control uses pesticides to control pest populations. Pesticides can be sprayed or added as seed dressings. Application of pesticides may contaminate soil and water, and might have negative impacts on soil and aquatic life. 
Disease management   63 Physical disease control Physical disease management involves targeted applications of hot water, steam, hot air, or flooding to combat the disease.
64 Chemical disease control Chemical disease control is controlling diseases with pesticide applications. There are numerous pesticides to control various diseases. Application of pesticides may pollute soils and water, and affect soil and aquatic life.
Pollutant management    Remediation 65 Phytoremediation Phytoremediation is the use of living green plants to fix or adsorb contaminants, and cleaning the contaminants or making their risk reduction or disappearance. It is a cost-effective, environmentally friendly and aesthetically pleasing approach to tackle contamination issues. Phytostabilization, phytovolatilization and phytoextraction are the main three types of phytoremediation.
Balanced applications   66 Integrated pest and disease management Integrated pest and disease management is a broad-based approach that considers all available pest and disease control techniques and integrates appropriate measures that discourage the development of pest and disease populations and keep pesticides and other interventions to levels that are economically justified and reduce or minimize risks to the environment, soil and aquatic life, and human health. 
67 Integrated nutrient management Integrated nutrient management utilises soil, nutrient, water, crop, and vegetation management practices with the aim of improving and sustaining soil fertility and land productivity and reducing environmental degradation.
Grazing management  Grazing management  68 Controlled and rotational grazing Controlled grazing is to regulate the amount of time and the amount of grazing that should take place within a particular pasture in order to prevent overgrazing and soil degradation. Such strategy can be applied in a rotational system, whereby livestock is allowed on fields only periodically to maintain pasture in good condition and allow effective recovery.
69 Area closure Area closure refers to enclosing and protecting an area of degraded land from human use and animal interference, to permit natural rehabilitation enhanced by additional vegetative and structural conservation measures.
Land use change    Extensification of land use 70 Conversion from arable land to grassland Extensification of land use should be considered if the current land use is not sustainable in the given environmental context. Changing from arable to grassland might enhance soil quality and functioning.
71 Conversion from arable land to permanent crops Extensification of land use should be considered if the current land use is not sustainable in the given environmental context. Changing from arable to permanent crops might enhance soil quality and functioning.
72 Conversion from arable land to forest Extensification of land use should be considered if the current land use is not sustainable in the given environmental context. Changing from arable to forest might enhance soil quality and functioning.
73 Conversion from grassland to forest Extensification of land use should be considered if the current land use is not sustainable in the given environmental context. Changing from grassland to forest might enhance soil quality and functioning.
74 Conversion from permanent crops to grassland Extensification of land use should be considered if the current land use is not sustainable in the given environmental context. Changing from permanent crops to grassland might enhance soil quality and functioning.
75 Conversion from permanent crops to forest Extensification of land use should be considered if the current land use is not sustainable in the given environmental context. Changing from permanent crops to forest might enhance soil quality and functioning.
Intensification of land use 76 Conversion from grassland to arable land Intensification of land use could be considered if the current land use is not economically viable. Changing from grassland to arable might enhance revenues but could negatively affect soil quality and functioning.
77 Conversion from grassland to permanent crops Intensification of land use could be considered if the current land use is not economically viable. Changing from grassland to permanent crops might enhance revenues but could negatively affect soil quality and functioning.
78 Conversion from permanent crops to arable land Intensification of land use could be considered if the current land use is not economically viable. Changing from permanent crops to arable land might enhance revenues but could negatively affect soil quality and functioning.


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