Main authors: Thorfinn Stainforth, Luuk Fleskens, Catherine Bowyer
iSQAPERiS editor: Jane Brandt
Source document: Stainforth et al. (2020) Inventory of policy relevant data and sources extracted from WPs 3-7 and applicable to policy design: the importance of effective data combining. iSQAPER Project Deliverable 8.2, 20 pp


The ISQAPER project has developed a wide range of policy relevant data and sources. These are presented below in relation to the most relevant policy goals and instruments being developed as of 2020, and the main scientific outputs of the project.

Contents table
1. Publications & most relevant information for policy makers 
2. Upscaling
3. Good practice
4. EU policy goals and measures in 2020

1. Publications & most relevant information for policy makers

A significant number of articles were published as a result of research under the ISQAPER project. The most relevant for policy design are highlighted below, sorted by topic (see also »Scientific publications resulting from the iSQAPER research programme).

Publication Topic   Summary of main findings 
Tóth G, Kismányoky T, Kassai P, Hermann T, Fernandez-Ugalde O, Szabó B. Farming by soil in Europe: status and outlook of cropping systems under different pedoclimatic conditions. PeerJ. 2020;8:e8984. Published 2020 May 28. doi:10.7717/peerj.8984
Characterisations of crop and livestock farming systems Despite of the importance of soils in agronomy, to date no comprehensive assessment of cropping in Europe has been performed from the viewpoint of the soil variability and its relationship to cropping patterns. In order to fill this knowledge gap, we studied the cropping patterns in different soils of European climate zones with regards to the shares of their crop types in a comparative manner. The study highlights the main features of farming by soil in Europe. Farming by soil in this context means the consideration of soil characteristics when selecting crop types and cropping patterns.
Results suggest that, in general, farmers consciously take pedoclimatic condition of farming into account when selecting their cropping patterns. In other words, farming by soil is a common practice in the different climatic regions of Europe. However, we have strong reasons to believe that soil suitability-based cropping is not practiced to its full potential over the continent. For example, the findings of our European assessment suggest that production areas of legumes are not always optimized for the local pedoclimatic conditions in some zones. These findings also underline that economic drivers are decisive, when farmers adopt their cropping (eg. oil crops on Albeluvsiols in Europe). Win-win situations of economic considerations and soil suitability based management are observed in all pedoclimatic zones of Europe. The country analysis shows that cropping is progressively practiced on more suitable areas, depending also the crop tolerance to variable pedoclimatic conditions In conclusion, we can assume that pedoclimatic conditions of cropping are respected in most of Europe and farmers crops according to edaphic conditions whenever economic considerations do not override the ecological concerns of farming.
Alaoui, A, Barão, L, Ferreira, CS, et al. Visual assessment of the impact of agricultural management practices on soil quality. Agronomy Journal. 2020; 112: 2608– 2623.
Agricultural management effects & indicators  The intensification of agricultural practices to increase food and feed outputs is a pressing challenge causing deterioration of soil quality and soil functions. Such a challenge demands provision of empirical evidence to provide context‐sensitive guidance on agricultural management practices (AMPs) that may enhance soil quality. The objectives of this study are to identify the most promising AMPs (and their combinations) applied by farmers with the most positive effects on soil quality and to evaluate the sensitivity of the soil quality indicators to the applied AMPs. The effect of selected AMPs on soil quality was assessed using a visual soil assessment tool in a total of 138 pairs of plots spread across 14 study site areas in Europe and China covering representative pedo‐climatic zones. The inventory and scoring of soil quality were conducted together with landowners. Results show that 104 pairs show a positive effect of AMPs on soil quality. Higher effects of the AMPs were observed in lower fertile soils (i.e., Podzols and Calcisols) as opposed to higher fertile soils (i.e., Luvisols and Fluvisols). For the single use applications, the AMPs with positive effects were crop rotation; manuring, composting, and no‐tillage; followed by organic agriculture and residue maintenance. Cluster analysis showed that the most promising combinations of AMPs with the most positive effects on soil quality are composed of crop rotation, mulching, and min‐till. 
Bai Z.G., Caspari T., Ruiperez-Gonzalez M., Batjes N.H., Mäder, P., Bünemann E.K., de Goede, R, Brussaard, L., Xu M.G., Santos Ferreira C.S., Reintam E., Fan H.Z., Mihelič R., Glavan M., Tóth Z., 2018. Effects of agricultural management practices on soil quality: A review of long-term experiments for Europe and China. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, 265, 1-7
Agricultural management effects

• Effects of four paired management practices on five soil quality indicators were analysed.
• Yield was lower under no-tillage (NT) and organic agriculture, but with environmental benefits.
• Soil Organic Matter (SOM) increased under NT, organic matter addition, crop rotation and organic farming.
• Number of earthworms was the most sensitive indicator for the paired practices.
• Soil pH appears to be the least sensitive indicator.

Lúcia Barão, Abdallah Alaoui, Carla Ferreira, Gottlie Basch, Gudrun Schwilch, Violette Geissen, Wijnand Sukkel, Julie Lemesle, Fuensanta Garcia-Orenes, Alicia Morugán-Coronado, JorgeMataix-Solera, Costas Kosmas, Matjaž Glavan, Marina Pintar, Brigitta Tóth, Tamás Hermann, Olga Petruta Vizitiu, Jerzy Lipiec, Fei Wang. 2019. Assessment of promising agricultural management practices. Science of the total environment, 649: 610-619.
Agricultural management effects Aims: 1) map the current distribution of previously selected 18 promising AMPs in several pedo-climatic regions and farming systems located in ten and four study site areas (SSA) along Europe and China, respectively; and 2) identify the soil threats occurring in those areas. In each SSA, farmers using promising AMP's were identified and questionnaires were used to assess farmer's perception on soil threats significance in the area.
138 plots/farms using 18 promising AMPs, were identified in Europe (112) and China (26).Results show that promising AMPs used in Europe are Crop rotation (15%), Manuring & Composting (15%) and Min-till (14%), whereas in China are Manuring & Composting (18%), Residue maintenance (18%) and Integrated pest and disease management (12%). In Europe, soil erosion is the main threat in agricultural Mediterranean areas while soil-borne pests and diseases is more frequent in the SSAs from France and The Netherlands. In China, soil erosion, SOM decline, compaction and poor soil structure are among the most significant. This work provides important information for policy makers and the development of strategies to support and promote agricultural management practices with benefits for soil quality.
Else K. Bünemann, Giulia Bongiorno, Zhanguo Bai, Rachel E. Creamer, Gerlinde De Deyn, Ron de Goede, Luuk Fleskens, Violette Geissen, Thom W. Kuyper, Paul Mäder, Mirjam Pulleman, Wijnand Sukkel, Jan Willem van Groenigen, Lijbert Brussaard. 2018. Soil quality – A critical review, Soil Biology and Biochemistry, Volume 120
Indicators • We review soil quality and related concepts in terms of definitions and assessment.
• The most common indicators are organic matter, pH, available P and water storage.
• Biological/biochemical indicators are under-represented but show great potential.
• Soil quality assessment should specify targeted soil threats, functions and ecosystem services.
• Increasingly interactive assessment tools must be developed with target users.
Giulia Bongiorno, Else K. Bünemann, Chidinma U. Oguejiofor, Jennifer Meier, Gerrit Gort, Rob Comans, Paul Mäder, Lijbert Brussaard, Ronde Goede. 2019. Sensitivity of labile carbon fractions to tillage and organic matter management and their potential as comprehensive soil quality indicators across pedoclimatic conditions in Europe. Ecological Indicators 99, 38-50
Indicators Soil quality is defined as the capacity of the soil to perform multiple functions, and can be assessed by measuring soil chemical, physical and biological parameters. Among soil parameters, labile organic carbon is considered to have a primary role in many soil functions related to productivity and environmental resilience. Our study aimed at assessing the suitability of different labile carbon fractions, namely dissolved organic carbon (DOC), hydrophilic DOC (Hy-DOC), permanganate oxidizable carbon (POXC, also referred to as Active Carbon), hot water extractable carbon (HWEC) and particulate organic matter carbon (POMC) as soil quality indicators in agricultural systems. To do so, we tested their sensitivity to two agricultural management factors (tillage and organic matter input) in 10 European long-term field experiments (LTEs), and we assessed the correlation of the different labile carbon fractions with physical, chemical and biological soil quality indicators linked to soil functions. We found that reduced tillage and high organic matter input increase concentrations of labile carbon fractions in soil compared to conventional tillage and low organic matter addition, respectively. POXC and POMC were the most sensitive fractions to both tillage and fertilization across the 10 European LTEs. In addition, POXC was the labile carbon fraction most positively correlated with soil chemical (total organic carbon, total nitrogen, and cation exchange capacity), physical (water stable aggregates, water holding capacity, bulk density) and biological soil quality indicators (microbial biomass carbon and nitrogen, and soil respiration).
We conclude that POXC represents a labile carbon fraction sensitive to soil management and that is the most informative about total soil organic matter, nutrients, soil structure, and microbial pools and activity, parameters commonly used as indicators of various soil functions, such as C sequestration, nutrient cycling, soil structure formation and soil as a habitat for biodiversity. Moreover, POXC measurement is relatively cheap, fast and easy. Therefore, we suggest measuring POXC as the labile carbon fraction in soil quality assessment schemes in addition to other valuable soil quality indicators.
Giulia BONGIORNO. Novel soil quality indicators for the evaluation of agricultural management practices: a biological perspective[J].Frontiers of Agricultural Science and Engineering,2020,7(3):257-274.
Indicators Developments in soil biology and in methods to characterize soil organic carbon can potentially deliver novel soil quality indicators that can help identify management practices able to sustain soil productivity and environmental resilience. This work aimed at synthesizing results regarding the suitability of a range of soil biological and biochemical properties as novel soil quality indicators for agricultural management. The soil properties, selected through a published literature review, comprised different labile organic carbon fractions [hydrophilic dissolved organic carbon, dissolved organic carbon, permanganate oxidizable carbon (POXC), hot water extractable carbon and particulate organic matter carbon], soil disease suppressiveness measured using a - bioassay, nematode communities characterized by amplicon sequencing and qPCR, and microbial community level physiological profiling measured with MicroResp . Prior studies tested the sensitivity of each of the novel indicators to tillage and organic matter addition in ten European long-term field experiments (LTEs) and assessed their relationships with pre-existing soil quality indicators of soil functioning. Here, the results of these previous studies are brought together and interpreted relative to each other and to the broader body of literature on soil quality assessment. Reduced tillage, increased carbon availability, disease suppressiveness, nematode richness and diversity, the stability and maturity of the food web, and microbial activity and functional diversity. Organic matter addition played a weaker role in enhancing soil quality, possibly due to the range of composition of the organic matter inputs used in the LTEs. POXC was the indicator that discriminated best between soil management practices, followed by nematode indices based on functional characteristics. Structural equation modeling shows that POXC has a central role in nutrient retention/supply, carbon sequestration, biodiversity conservation, erosion control and disease regulation/suppression. The novel indicators proposed here have great potential to improve existing soil quality assessment schemes. Their feasibility of application is discussed and needs for future research are outlined.
Stankovics, P., Tóth, G., Tóth, Z., 2018. Identifying gaps between the legislative tools of soil protection in the EU member states for a common European soil protection legislation. Sustainability 10:8 Paper: 2886
Policy This study is aimed at specifying the possible obstacles, differences, and gaps in legislature and administration in the countries that formed the blocking minority against the Soil Framework Directive (the Directive) proposed by the EC in 2006. The individual legislation of the opposing countries on the matter, were summarized and compared with the goals set by the Directive, in three highlighted aspects: (1) soil-dependent threats, (2) contamination, and (3) sealing. We designed a simple schematic evaluation system to show the basic levels of differences and similarities. We found that the legislative regulations concerning soil-dependent degradation and contamination issues in the above countries were generally well defined, complementary, and thorough. A common European legislation can be based on harmonised approaches between them, focusing on technical implementations. In the aspect of sealing we found recommendations, principles, and good practices rather than binding regulations in the scrutinised countries. Soil sealing is an issue where the proposed Directive’s measures, could have exceeded those of the Member States.

2. Upscaling

ISQAPER conducted detailed work to evaluate and model the upscaling of the agricultural management practices examined in the project under different policy scenarios. These are used to evaluate changes in the soil quality indicators driven by changes in agricultural management practices. Changes in soil environmental footprint are quantified in terms of the effect of management practices on soil productivity, nutrients and biodiversity. Details are found below and are of great relevance to policy makers looking to implement improved soil policy.

Publication Summary of main findings
Iglesias, A. et al. (2018) Report on definition of typical combinations of farming systems and agricultural practices in Europe and China and their effects on soil quality. iSQAPER Project Deliverable 7.1, 87 pp
A main effort is to identify and characterize a relatively limited number of typical farming systems in Europe and China with relevant crop and soil management practices. The farming systems selected in this deliverable provide a broad overview of the different types of systems that are common in Europe and China. These farming systems are characterized in this Deliverable, including: geographical zones, spatial extent, productivity level and intensity of land and resource (fertilizer and manure) use, management practices, and irrigation. We have compiled data from all categories of farming systems, management practices and soil quality indicators and present a spatial representation of the available information for Europe and China. It includes, spatial location, intensity of resource use and crop yield for farming systems, degree of implementation for agricultural practices and available information on soil quality status.
Garrote L., Santillán D., Iglesias A. (2018) Report on key management practices affecting soil quality and their applicability in various farming systems. iSQAPER Project Deliverable 7.2 140 pp
The main focus of this Deliverable 7.2 is to understand at the continental scale, how agricultural management practices that mitigate soil threats also affect other ecosystem services in different farming systems in Europe and China. Our results show that even with an additional 10% implementation, the effect of improved management is significant in most European and China regions and all the crops considered in this study

Iglesias A., Garrote L., Santillán D. (2020) Report on scenarios of future farm and soil management systems. iSQAPER Project Deliverable 7.3 19 pp

We develop scenarios of future farm and soil management systems for improved productivity and enhanced soil quality. This is carried out by a multi-actor approach. We develop the critical thresholds of soil quality indicators at the continental scale and establish threshold values in the variables of the continental-scale datasets. We identifying socio-economic barriers and opportunities to proposed management practices. The analytical process was facilitated by a genuine multi-actor approach, encouraging co-production of knowledge and co-innovation.
Garrote L., Santillán D., Iglesias A. (2019) Report on the evaluation of scenarios of changed soil environmental footprint for a range of policy scenarios. iSQAPER Project Deliverable 7.4
Future soil management policy scenarios are evaluated through the application of the upscaling model to policy scenarios to obtain the spatial representation of soil quality indicators in order to evaluate soil environmental footprint. Policy scenarios evaluated:
Expected: The Expected scenario maintains the observed tendency in the implementation of beneficial agricultural management practices.
Regional Targets: This scenario assumes the same rate of implementation of agricultural management practices, but considers that policy efforts are focused on areas where soil threats are more active and soil quality indicators are poorer. The emphasis, therefore, is place on targeting the regions that where the practices would be more beneficial.
Towards 2050: This scenario assumes an intensification on the rate of implementation of agricultural management practices as a result of public policies.
Our results show that the “Expected scenario” is not enough to make significant contributions towards improving the soil environmental footprint and the Towards 2050 scenario delivers important benefits. The Regional Targets scenario delivers important benefits in key challenging areas, where the effects improve greatly the soil environmental footprint. The implication is that focusing on “hot spots” of soil quality degradation could be a good way of prioritising action on soil quality.

3. Good practice

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 management 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 leaflets which explain the

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

See »Good practice leaflets.

4. EU Policy Goals and Measures in 2020

Below are tables with links to data and sources gathered by the iSQAPER project in relation to specific Agricultural Management Practices that relate to policy goals and measures that are currently under discussion at EU level that relate to soil quality. Some iSQAPER policy briefing papers are also included where relevant.

Table 1: Proposed GAEC standards for supporting soil management

New GAEC standards Potential soil threat addressed Policy relevant data and sources
Potential direct effects for soil management
GAEC 6: Tillage management to reduce the risk of soil degradation, including slope consideration in order to ensure minimum land management reflecting site-specific conditions to limit erosion Soil erosion, loss of soil organic matter/soil carbon, compaction »No tillage
»Minimum tillage
»Contour ploughing
»Strip tillage
»Roughing the soil surface
»Raised beds
GAEC 7: No bare soil in most sensitive period(s) to protect during winter Soil erosion, loss of soil organic matter/soil carbon, soil biodiversity »Cover crops
»Vegetation cover
GAEC 8: Crop rotation to preserve soil potential (new) Loss of soil organic matter/soil carbon, soil biodiversity, compaction »Crop rotation/diversification
»Crop choice
Potential for direct and indirect effects for soil management
GAEC 1: Maintenance of permanent grassland as a general safeguard against conversion to preserve carbon stock*  Soil erosion, loss of organic matter/soil carbon, loss of soil biodiversity »Herb-rich grassland
»Rangeland rehabilitation
GAEC 2: Preservation of carbon-rich soils such as peatlands and wetlands (new) Loss of organic matter/soil carbon, loss of soil biodiversity, soil erosion n/a
GAEC 3: Ban of burning arable stubble to maintain soil organic matter, except for plant health reasons Loss of soil organic matter/soil carbon »Physical disease control
GAEC 4: Establishment of buffer strips along water course Contamination (diffuse), soil erosion, loss of organic matter, compaction »Riparian buffer zones and filter strips
»Semi-natural landscape elements
Briefing Paper »Protecting Europe's soils, protecting Europe's water bodies?
GAEC 5: Use of Farm Sustainability Tool for Nutrients (new) Contamination (diffuse) »Integrated nutrient management
»Carbon and nutrient management
GAEC 9: Maintenance of non-productive features and area to improve on-farm biodiversity Loss of soil organic matter/soil carbon, soil biodiversity, compaction »Semi-natural landscape elements
GAEC 10: Ban on converting or ploughing permanent grassland in Natura 2000 sites to protect habitats and species (new) Loss of organic matter/soil carbon, loss of soil biodiversity, soil erosion »Herb-rich grassland
»Multi-layered vegetation

Source: Own compilation based on the Commission’s Proposals for a new Regulation on CAP Strategic Plans, Annex III; Frelih-Larsen et al. (2016); and expert judgement
Notes: *GAEC supersedes existing greening obligation.

Table 2: Voluntary land management interventions with the potential to support soil management

Sustainable practices proposed under Eco-scheme: Schemes for the climate and the environment - (Art. 28) Policy relevant data and sources
Agro-ecology (including organic farming) Briefing Paper »Assessing soil quality in agro-ecosystems
Carbon farming Briefing Paper »Climate and soil policy brief: better integrating soil into EU climate policy
»Carbon and nutrient management
Agro-forestry »Agroforestry
»Multi-layered vegetation

Table 3: Biodiversity & Farm to Fork Strategies’ Policy Goals

Policy Goal Policy relevant data and sources

Bring back at least 10% of agricultural area under high-diversity landscape features. These include, inter alia, buffer strips, rotational or non-rotational fallow land, hedges, non-productive trees, terrace walls, and ponds. These help enhance carbon sequestration, prevent soil erosion and depletion, filter air and water, and support climate adaptation.

»Terrain management - highlights bunds and terraces, conservation agriculture
»Vegetation management - highlights vegetation cover, vegetation bands e.g. »Semi-natural landscape elements

Pesticides. Reduce by 50% the use and risk of chemical pesticides by 2030.
Reduce by 50% the use of more hazardous pesticides by 2030.
»Pest management - includes sections on weed, pest, and disease management
»Environmental exposure to pesticides (EPP)
At least 25% of the EU’s agricultural land must be organically farmed by 2030. See Table 1 and 2 for detailed examination of relevant measures
It is essential to step up efforts to protect soil fertility, reduce soil erosion and increase soil organic matter. To address these issues in a comprehensive way and help to fulfil EU and international commitments on land-degradation neutrality, the Commission will update the EU Soil Thematic Strategy in 2021. See Table 1 and 2 for detailed examination of relevant measures
Goal of zero pollution from nitrogen and phosphorus flows from fertilisers through reducing nutrient losses by at least 50%, while ensuring that there is no deterioration in soil fertility. Briefing Paper »Protecting Europe's soils, protecting Europe's water bodies?
»Green Manuring
»Liquid manure or slurry - including methods of application that reduce leaching
»Inorganic fertilizers - including methods of application that reduce leaching
»Integrated nutrient management
Significant progress in the remediation of contaminated soil sites. »Pollutant management
»Phytoremediation - (including phytostabilization, phytodegradation, phytoextraction and phytovolatilization) the practice of using living green plants to immobilize or adsorb contaminants from polluted soil. It is a cost-effective and environmentally friendly approach to tackling contamination issues.
»Balanced applications
Briefing Paper »Plastic pollution in soil
Significant progress is needed on identifying contaminated soil sites, restoring degraded soils, defining the conditions for their good ecological status, introducing restoration objectives, and improving the monitoring of soil quality. (Also relevant to revised EU soil thematic strategy and Zero Pollution Action Plan for Air, Water and Soil) »Soil quality: assessment, indicators & management - in this section of iSQAPERiS we integrate soil science and agricultural management practices. We review concepts of soil quality and measured or visually assessed soil properties (such as organic matter content or earthworm density) that can be used as indicators of quality.


Note: For full references to papers quoted in this article see

» References

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