Front coverThe need to provide appropriate information, advice and support to land managers about sustainable soil management is increasingly recognised at the international, European and national levels. Advice to farmers concerning soil management is complex as it can cover a number of topics, address a number of objectives, and be delivered by different providers using varying approaches, methods, tools. This diverse soil advice landscape reflects a context where farmers are having to deliver both marketable and environmental public goods combined with a typically diverse and fragmented advice landscape whereby farmers are influenced by multiple priorities, interests and people (environmental, agronomic, innovation, technological, food assurance etc).

A new SoilCare report, available HERE, considers these multiple contextual factors when reviewing and assessing the effectiveness of advice about soil-improving cropping systems (SICS).

The review is structured around 5 key issues:

  • soil management topics already being supported with advice
  • advisory services and how farmers currently obtain information about soil management
  • gaps in advice and dissemination
  • examples of effective advice/best practice
  • key principles for effective knowledge exchange of SICS

Both European and national support and advice is reviewed with particular reference to the SoilCare study site countries where information is available. As there are few/no academic papers that specifically examine advice for soil– the review draws on papers and reports that consider:

  1. advice and information in the context of adoption of broader best management practices (BMP);
  2. advice as it relates to policy measures relevant to soil in European countries, concerning all aspects of soil management in arable agriculture i.e. not just SICS;
  3. advisory systems and services in European countries primarily referring to the EU Proakis project
  4. recent relevant research and reviews conducted in the EU funded projects such as RECARE and SmartSOIL. The policy review conducted in WP7 (Deliverable 7.1) complements this assessment of the advice landscape for soil.

Drawing on the review, the report concludes with some key principles for advice and dissemination on SICS, structured around the three main elements of the dissemination strategy: the message (the what), the methods (the how) and the audience (the who).  These principles are summarised below with more detail provided in the report.

The Message (what)

  • Does the land manager want to use the information and can they?
  • Does it clash with other advice?
  • Are there opportunities to link it to other advice?
  • Does it fit with compliance and standards for AEM contracts?
  • Is it limited by meeting cross compliance regulations?
  • Is it holistic advice – several SICS combined across the farm?
  • Emphasise SICS principles, not prescriptions
  • How big is the change on farm - and is long-term support needed?
  • Is the advice clear and were the principles and language used understood?
  • Discuss trade-offs and short-term losses, as well as assurances of long-term benefits

The Methods (how) 

  • What differences are there between advisory service quality and capacity?
  • Do these services need training in SICS?
  • What viewpoints may advisors bring to SICS explanations? How does this sit within the wider advisory landscape?
  • Who does the land manager trust and not trust in giving sound advice?
  • Does advice need to be farm-specific, or broader?
  • Are events or one-one conversations best?

The Audience (who)

  • Do land managers need training in SICS application?
  • Is there anyone trained in SICS to give advice and training?
  • Land managers may vary from small-holders to commercial farms with varying tenures, control over decisions and environmental commitment
  • Some land managers may want to see case studies of SICS in practice, others research evidence behind them
  • The same messages can be understood differently depending on the land manager
  • How tailored can you make the advice depending upon the scale (local – regional / national)?
  • Advice needs to be focused on farm business but set within the context of other influences

The review has also helped to inform a recent paper Are advisory services ‘fit for purpose’ to support sustainable soil management? A review of advisory capacity in Europe published in a Special Issue of Soil Use and Management “Soil information‐sharing and knowledge building for sustainable soil use and management: insights and implications for the 21st century”.

For more details about the report, please contact Julie Ingram, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.