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In each of the study sites the iSQAPER team, together with local farmers or land users, identified the main agricultural management practices used locally. The practices vary according to the climatic zone, soil type and crop produced. Some of them were conventional and designed to maximise yield while other innovative* practices were being used with the explicit purpose of also benefitting or improving soil quality. In the European study sites the most common innovative practices were: manuring & composting, crop rotation and minimum tillage. The most common in China were: manuring & composting, residue maintenance/mulching and integrated pest and disease management (incl. organic agriculture). For more details see: »Impact of promising land managment practices

In two separate field campaigns we compared the effects of the innovative to the conventional practices by assessing soil quality of 132 pairs of neighbouring fields. For more details of the visual assessment methods see: »Visual soil and plant quality assessment

Of the original 132, one or two practices per country were identified as having the best proven effectiveness on improving soil quality in that location. Many of these practices are described in the leaflets below which explain the

  • principles of the practice,
  • the soil threat it is designed to address,
  • the scientific evidence for its effectiveness.

*Note: The use of the word innovative to describe some of these practices may look odd; in the history of agriculture crop rotation and manuring are hardly new. However within the context of iSQAPER's study sites these practices represent an improvement over conventional practice and are generally not widely applied in area.


Study site 1: De Peel, Netherlands

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Non-inversion tillage on sandy soils in the Netherlands

Non-inversion tillage causes less disturbance to the soil, resulting in better structure and more organic matter and soil life in the top soil. It has shown positive effects on the structure of clay soils but hasn't been tested intensively on sandy soils.

Study site 3: Cértima, Portugal

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Sewage sludge from domestic waste water treatment in a maize farm

The incorporation of sludge into the soil (as part of a circular economy) increases organic matter content, improving structure and nutrient content. However, long-term application increases the amounts of heavy metals and other trace elements in the soil. Understanding the behaviour of these elements is important to support effective management practices that mitigate contamination.
»PT version

Study site 4: Southeast Spain

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Minimum tillage, permanent soil cover and manure application

Minimum tillage protects the soil from erosion and compaction. Allowing crop residues to remain on the soil and applying additional manure increases the organic matter content and protects the soil.
»ES version

Study site 5: Crete, Greece

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Extensive sustainable grazing

Extensive sustainable grazing is based on a stable animal density below or equal to the sustainable stocking rate. Extensive grazing protects the land from erosion by maintaining a vegetation cover above 40-50%, the threshold below which accelerated erosion occurs.

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Minimum and no tillage

Minimum and no tillage belong to the conservation tillage production system where soil cultivation is kept to the minimum necessary for crop establishment and growth. Under olive groves in Crete both minimum and no tillage can decrease soil disturbance, runoff and soil loss and improve soil water conservation, aggregate stability and water infiltration.

Study site 6: Ljubljana, Slovenia

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Organic farming, broad rotation and organic manure

Using an organic farming system with a five year crop rotation cycle, nitrogen is supplied to the soil by organic fertiliser (from livestock) or by using legumes. Nutrient cycling is kept to a maximum within the farm. The use of chisel ploughs and hoes causes less frequent turning of the soil and maintains a continuous soil cover.
»SI version

Study site 7: Zala County, Hungary

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Farmyard manure application

Matured farmyard manure (from cattle, pigs and horses) is applied every 3 years, before maize in the crop rotation. Storing the manure reduces weed infestation and burying it immediately after spreading avoids nutrient loss. The manure application results in higher soil organic carbon and microbial biomass.

Study site 8: Braila County, Romania

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Water management in arable lands

Sustainable irrigation water management involving irrigation scheduling and technology improves water use efficiency and, in combination with other environmentally friendly technologies, increases soil quality.
»RO version

Study site 10: Tartuuma, Estonia

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Otsekülv (direct seeding)

Using direct seeding crops are grown from year to year without cultivating the soil. Seeds are injected into the soil beneath the residue of the previous crop without loosening the soil structure. Direct seeding is considered to be environmentally friendly because in general less fuel is used and greenhouse gas emissions are reduced. However, there is a risk that costs pesticides increase as ploughing and tillage help to reduce weeds and the spread of pests. (in Estonian)

Study sites 11 and 14: Qiyang and Gongzhuling, China

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Crop rotation, fertilization and green manure

Agricultural measures such as the combined application of organic and inorganic fertilizers, green manure, crop rotation and straw return are in line with Chinese national "weight loss and efficiency" principles and can improve fertility while maintaining foor production.
»CN version

Study site 12: Suining, China

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Straw mulching and no tillage

The return of straw to the soil surface as a mulch after harvest combined with no tillage is a popular practice in Sichuan. Both measures are aimed at better soil regeneration and conditions for agriculture, increased yield and less soil degradation.
»CN version

 

A series of short video clips, mostly made by the partners themselves, to explain the objectives of the iSQAPER project, SQAPP the soil quality app, soil quality and its assessment, give overviews of a number of agricultural management practices of proven benefit to soil quality and introductions to the iSQAPER study sites.

Note: All videos can also be viewed on the »iSQAPER YouTube channel


 

iSQAPER project

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Introducing the iSQAPER project

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.    

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SQAPP - the soil quality assessment app

SQAPP - the soil quality assessment app developed by the iSQAPER research project - gives: freely available global access to soil maps and data at any location, for any user; assesses the most probable threats to soil quality with explicit links between soil quality status and agricultural management; provides target advice on how to improve soil quality status; and has the capacity for users to interact with the databases, uploading local data to refine the soil quality analysis and recommendations.   

Importance of good soil quality

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The 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

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Assessing soil quality in the Suining study site

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

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Factors affecting soil quality

Soil quality is determined by a number of intrinsic properties as well as management practices resulting from human intervention.

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Impact of soil management on physical soil properties

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.

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Effect of agricultural management on soil life

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.

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Soil threats and approaches for their mitigation

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.

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Land management practices that protect Crete from degradation, GR

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.

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Benefits of using catch crops, SI

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.

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Benefits of straw return, CN

Returning straw to the field, rather than burning it, improves soil structure and increases soil organic matter and nutrients.

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Alternatives to lime for reducing soil acidity, CN

In areas with no access to lime, animal manure and crop residues can provide an alterative means of reducing soil acidity.

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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.

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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.

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Nutrient cycle in organic farming, SI

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.

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Biochar as a soil improver, SI

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

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Organic dairy farming in GAEC de la Branchette, FR

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.

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Organic hop farming in Trzebieszów, PL

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.

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Physical characteristics of iSQAPER study site on Crete, GR

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.

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Rock fragments and soil conservation Crete, GR

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.

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.

Soils in Estonia

Estonian soils face a number of degradation problems including unbalanced use of nutrients, decomposition of organic matter, compaction, erosion and acidification.

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Zala study site, Hungary

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.

 

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.

 

 

A series of infographics providing information about iSQAPER's major research themes and results, soil quality issues in the study sites and agricultural management practices of proven benefit. Most of these infographics were designed by the study sites in communication with their stakeholders to explain local soil quality issues and describe recommended practices.


Infographics relating to the main research themes addressed by iSQAPER

Soil quality: indicators, assessment & management

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Soil quality indicators: integrated soil quality assessment

Soil quality is the capacity of soil to perform multiple functions. This capacity can be threatened by intensive agricultural practices. Soil quality can be measured through the use of parameters which are sensitive to management and related to soil functions. For a proper and complete assessment of soil quality, physical, chemical and biological parameters all need to be measured.

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Earthworms indicate healthy soils

Intensive agriculture puts soil under pressure, causes earthworm numbers to decrease, reducing soil structure and increasing erosion risk. Alternative agricultural practices such as reduced tillage, organic agriculture and crop rotation can favour earthworms and maintain soil functions.

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Labile carbon: a sensitive soil quality indicator

Labile carbon is a fraction of total carbon closely connected with soil organisms. It has been positively linked with multiple soil functions and is increased by sustainable agricultural management practices such as reduced tillage and organic matter additions. This makes labile carbon a very useful and practical soil quality indicator.

Sustainable land management practices

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Sustainable farming practices to mitigate soil threats

Soil erosion, organic matter decline and biodiversity loss can all result from intensive agricultural practices. Most ecosystem services are soil mediated and can only be satisfactorily provided by healthy soils. Sustainable farming practices mimic natural soil conditions through minimal disturbance, permanent cover and plant diversity.

Infographics relating to the iSQAPER study sites

Study site 1: De Peel, Netherlands

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Focus points for sustainable soil management in the Netherlands

The De Peel study site provides examples of focus points for sustainable soil management including prevention of nutrient leaching, subsoil compaction addition of organic matter and crop rotation.
NL version

Study site 4: Southeast Spain

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Prácticas agrícolas sostenibles del Sureste Español (Sustainable agricultural practices from southeast Spain) 

Mulching, crop rotation, application of compost, reduced tillage, organic agriculture and maintaining a vegetation cover are illustrated and described (in Spanish)

Study site 5: Crete, Greece

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Land management practices and soil threats in the island of Crete

The land managment practices of no tillage + no herbicide application, no tillage + herbicide application and conventional tillage are compared to assess their effects on soil erosion and loss of organic matter content.

Study site 6: Ljubljana, Slovenia

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Converting cropland to grazing land

In the light soils of Ljubljana, crop production is affected by drought. Cropland is ploughed and sown with drought resistant grass varieties, fencing and rotational grazing paddocks are introduced to provide pasture for suckler cows with multiple benefits for soil quality.

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Fertilising with farmyard manure

Manure collected from livestock is stored before being ploughed into the soil. The manure increases nutrient content and availability, soil structure, microbial activity and impacts plant growth resulting in better vegetable and crop production. 

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Biochar and zeolite - integrated soil fertility managment

Bio-char and zeolite are used in animal production and spread onto the fields as part of organic manure. Zeolite is also used as individual element in crop production to improve soils. All residues are incorporated into the soil.

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Biochar as a soil amendment

Biochar is obtained by pyrolysing wood, plant residues and manure at high temperatures. It is ground before being applied to the soil while sowing or mixed with slurry or manure. It has a number of beneficial effects on soil quality.
SI version

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Organic farming

Organic farming in Slovenia is based on a 5 year crop rotation, complete absence of artificial plant protection products and mineral nitrogen and the circulation of nitrogen via organic manure, crops and residues.
SI version

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Catch crops - importance for soil quality

Catch crops are sown after the harvest when there is enough moisture in the soil for the plants to grow rapidly. They are used for feeding animals or sown for greening arable land.
SI version

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Nutrient cycle in organic farming

Animals are the source of nutrients on farms. Composting cattle manure improves its characteristics and reduces nutrient loss from fields. Hoeing aerates the soil and increases nutrient accessibility. Soil analysis is important for fertilization plans.
SI version

 

Study site 7: Zala County, Hungary

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Land management in Zala County

Zala County is in the southwest of Hungary. Farming practices include the use of manure, grass strips, contour tillage, permanent and cover crops and minimum tillage.  Soil erosion contributes to the eutrophication of nearby Lake Balaton and protection against erosion is essential. 

Study site 8: Braila County, Romania

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Specific soil degradation processes in pastures

Compaction from uncontrolled animal trampling, erosion on slopes, weed infestation from inadequate management and drought periods all cause soil degradation in pastures. Sustainable grazing systems use controlled grazing access and temporary exclusion to allow vegetation restoration.

Study site 9: Trzebieszów, Poland

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Biodiversity in organic farming

Diversity in plant and animal species (especially meso and micro fauna) plays an important role in food and biomass production, in the stability and adaptability of ecosystems and enhances soil function.

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Soils in Poland - how to improve and save

The light, sandy soils of Poland tend to be used with a restricted cereal crop rotation. Consequently low organic matter, low water holding capacity and soil acidity hinder production and other soil functions. Increasing organic matter and using sustainable soil management will save the soil for future generations.

Study site 10: Tartuuma, Estonia

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

1. Disclaimer

All the data and information contained in the iSQAPER Project Information System website (iSQAPERiS) have been subject to a series of rigorous quality assurance procedures. However please note the following.

  1. The editors and authors are not able to guarantee the topicality, accuracy, completeness or quality of any data, information or methodology provided herein.
  2. Parts of this website (including all linked material) may be extended, changed or partly or completely deleted by the editors and authors without separate announcement.
  3. The editors and authors have no responsibility for determining the fitness or suitability of the data, information or methodologies for use by a third party.
  4. Neither iSQAPER nor the European Commission can be held accountable for any loss, damage, injury or any other occurrence arising from their use.
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If you notice information on this website that you believe should be corrected or updated, please contact us. We shall try to remedy the problem.

[This disclaimer is to be regarded as part of the iSQAPER Project Information System website.  If sections or individual terms of this statement are not legal or correct, the content or validity of the other parts remain uninfluenced by this fact.]

2. Copyright and conditions of use of iSQAPER products

The iSQAPERiS website is a proprietary product of the integrated research project Interactive Soil Quality Assesment in Europe and China for Agricultural Productivity and Environmental Resilience (iSQAPER). This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme (Grant agreement: 635750); the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Sciences; the Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (Contract: 15.0170-1) and is therefore protected by Copyright Law. The full ownership and all copyrights of all data, information and methodologies (including the text, images, audio and video files) contained in this website are reserved.

However, the ethos of the project is to disseminate information and promote further research about soil quality, agricultural productivity and environmental resilience. Consequently, unless otherwise indicated, re-use of content on the website for non-commercial purposes is permitted, free of charge, under the following conditions.

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