One of the experimental fields in SoilCare is located in Solør-Odal north of Kongsvinger. Photo: To Seehusen

 

   

Over the last four years, researchers and agricultural advisers at SOILCARE have examined what kind of measures are needed to make European agriculture more sustainable. The goal is to find solutions that are adapted to local climate and soil conditions and the socio-economic situation.

 

The population is increasing. It also puts pressure on land areas in several European countries, with increasing food production on declining land areas. To prevent depletion of the soil, local measures must be put in place that contribute to more sustainable agriculture.

 

In the European research project SoilCare, researchers have been working for several years to find solutions to the challenges facing our land resources.

 

 - Much of today's agricultural practice goes beyond the soil structure and soil composition, which in turn results in reduced soil quality, says Jannes Stolte, department manager at NIBIO and responsible for the SoilCare project from the Norwegian side.

- By changing the way we operate the soil, we can stop the deterioration of soil quality. This is absolutely crucial if we are to be able to maintain and preferably also increase, future food production.

 

Frederik presents findings from the Øsaker study site. Photo credit: Kamilla Skaalsveen

The 4th Norwegian stakeholder workshop took place at NIBIO’s office in Oslo on the 13th of March 2019. Twelve people participated altogether; five from NIBIO and seven external stakeholders. These included farmers, the board leader of the National Farmers Union, advisory service representatives and a representative from the Royal Norwegian Society for Development.

 

The workshop started with an introduction by researcher Kamilla Skaalsveen and a presentation of the SoilCare project by Jannes Stolte as a general reminder and an update on the progress of the project since the last stakeholder meeting. Frederik Bøe and Till Seehusen followed by providing an update from the two study sites (Solør-Odal and Øsaker) to inform the participants about activities and results from 2018 and experimental plans for 2019.

 

The participants were asked to describe the SICS being tested in the Norwegian study sites (cover crops in general and cover crops to alleviate compaction) and the expected benefits/impacts. Some of these included getting subsidies, improving yield via N input and both cutting costs and increasing income as a result as well as improving soil quality and carbon storage. Risks were associated with competition between cover crops and the main crop, pests and diseases increasing, and the need to apply glyphosate to kill off cover crops.

The German Study Site at the Tachenhausen research farm is investigating the effects of glyphosate in a cropping system with cover crops and reduced tillage without ploughing. The use of glyphosate is currently highly debated, with public opinion pushing towards prohibition of this herbicide. Currently, as conventional conservation agriculture systems depend on herbicide use for weed control, it is important to understand the effects of glyphosate on soil biology. It is also important to develop alternative management practices to eliminate its use in the event that it is banned. This conflict illustrates a common structural problem of farming in industrialised countries, requiring research projects and stakeholder panels to avoid polarisation and destructive dynamics.The German Study Site at the Tachenhausen research farm is investigating the effects of glyphosate in a cropping system with cover crops and reduced tillage without ploughing. The use of glyphosate is currently highly debated, with public opinion pushing towards prohibition of this herbicide. Currently, as conventional conservation agriculture systems depend on herbicide use for weed control, it is important to understand the effects of glyphosate on soil biology. It is also important to develop alternative management practices to eliminate its use in the event that it is banned. This conflict illustrates a common structural problem of farming in industrialised countries, requiring research projects and stakeholder panels to avoid polarisation and destructive dynamics.

 

In the field experiment the four treatments consist of: cover crops and glyphosate application, cover crops without glyphosate application, glyphosate application without cover crops and no glyphosate with no cover crops. All four treatments are replicated four times (= 16 Plots) on 12m² plots.

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The Portugal Study Site held an Open Day this April to show local farmers the progress of their SICS trials on green manures.

 

Green Manures

Stakeholders assessing green manuresOne SICS includes growing green manure to look at the effect on soil quality and was particularly well received by the farmers and technicians. The Open Day was perfectly timed for the full flowering of the legumes, which caused a very enthusiastic reaction from the participants. It was suggested that besides monitoring the change in soil quality, calculating the nutrient release of the legumes would be a good idea. This in turn would help calculate only the necessary amount of mineral fertilization needed for application. The hopes would be to cut both cost and reliance on chemicals.

 

 OPenDay DiscussionsFollowing the Open Day, the nutrient release was determined for 5 species of legumes: Pea, Yellow Lupin, Red Clover, Balansa Clover and Arrowleaf Clover. In addition to improving SOC and weed control, the green manures supply an average of 35%, 25% and 100% of the NPK extraction of the grain maize. A paper publishing these results was recently released (September 2019) in a national agricultural technical-scientific Journal.

 

Farmer Rafael Alonso Aguilera in his organic olive grove, with drip irrigation and cover crop SICS. Photo credit: Jasmine Black

 

In our second newsletter (November 2017), we introduced you to the two Spanish study sites, located in the South-East of Spain near Almeria – Area A in the Sorbas-Tabernas Basin and Area B in the Cabo de Gata Natural Park. Recently the SoilCare research team met in Almeria to discuss project progress and visit the two study sites