Project website: http://soilcare-project.eu/
European crop production is facing a growing challenge to remain competitive, while at the same time reducing negative environmental impacts. Currently, production levels in some cropping systems are maintained by increased inputs, such as fertiliser and pesticides, and more advanced technology, which masks losses in productivity due to reduced soil quality. Such increased use of agricultural inputs may reduce profitability due to their costs, while also negatively affecting the environment.
The quality of agricultural land is also threatened by human action, leading to, often subtle and gradual, physical, chemical and biological degradation of the soil. This includes soil threats such as erosion, compaction, salinization, soil pollution, loss of organic matter and loss of soil biodiversity. Soil improvement is necessary to break the negative spiral of degradation, increased inputs, increased costs and damage to the environment.
Therefore, more sustainable crop management strategies are needed to maintain or increase soil fertility. Inappropriate soil and water management and the overuse of external inputs in intensive crop production systems contribute significantly to ground water and surface water pollution, GHGs emissions, the build-up in soil contaminants, such as heavy metals and organic pollutants. Better soil management and optimisation of fertilisers and water are of paramount importance for conciliating the necessary competitiveness and the long-term sustainability of the entire intensive crop production sector in Europe.
In order to identify and evaluate promising soil-improving crop systems and agronomic techniques that will increase the profitability and sustainability of agriculture across Europe, the EU has funded research under its Horizon 2020 programme for a project called SoilCare (SoilCare for profitable and sustainable crop production in Europe).
The funding of £287,400 was secured in December 2015 and the CCRI is one of 28 collaborating partners, led by Alterra, University of Wageningen, The Netherlands. The project started on 1st March 2016 and will continue for 5 years.
The CCRI is the Work Package Leader for Dissemination and Communication in the project with the aim of raising awareness of soil related issues and ensuring that findings and practices from the project are disseminated and communicated widely and integrated into existing agricultural and advisory systems.
Jane Mills and Dr Julie Ingram will be working on the project and their work will focus particularly on disseminating and communicating the research findings from the 16 study sites and ensuring effective knowledge exchange between the project and farmers.
14-18 March, 2016 – First Project Meeting in Leuven, Belguim
Jane Mills and Julie Ingram attended the SoilCare project kick-off meeting in Leuven, Belgium from 14-18 March, 2016.
The meeting was hosted by our Belgian colleagues of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. More than 60 scientists representing all 28 partners in the project took part in the meeting.
During the week-long meeting, time was spent making detailed plans for the first 1.5 years of the project. Jane Mills presented plans for the dissemination work packages, including plans for a dedicated dissemination website. Jane and Julie also led a training session for study sites partners covering different types of knowledge exchange and dissemination techniques to be adopted throughout the project. Time was also spent during the week getting to know project partners better, something that is essential in such a large, international project. On Thursday, an excursion took place to several locations in the Belgian study site looking at different soil-improving cropping systems.
13th-16th, March 2017 – 2nd SoilCare project plenary meeting in Chania, Crete
The aim of EU-funded H2020 SoilCare project is to identify, evaluate and promote promising soil-improving cropping systems and agronomic techniques that increase both the profitability and sustainability of agriculture in Europe. The CCRI is one of 28 collaborating partners, led by Alterra, University of Wageningen, Netherlands.
The meeting was hosted by SoilCare partners from the Technical University of Crete and was held in the Grand Arsenal on the Old Venetian harbour of Chania.
The first day was spent discussing project progress over the last year. Jane Mills presented details of the progress made with dissemination activities throughout the year. During the second day Jane provided hands-on training to the study site partners on how to edit and upload photos and videos to their own study site webpages to enable them to communicate with their stakeholders, such as farmers and policy-makers, in their own language. Non-English speakers are often excluded from EU project websites and dissemination outputs and Jane is keen to ensure this does not occur in the SoilCare project.
A key part of the week was to clarify the definition of soil-improving cropping systems and to identify the types of soil-improving cropping systems that the researchers from the 16 study sites might select with their stakeholders for trialling.
One day was spent visiting two of the SoilCare study site areas in Crete, the Koufos and Biolea Estate plots. In the Koufos area, orange cultivation is a major crop, but due to market competition producer prices have dropped leaving little or no profit. Recently, avocados have been proposed as a sustainable alternative, although soil erosion rates have not been measured. We were shown trials where the researchers have been comparing the erosion rates as well as other soil quality parameters between a field that has remained an orange grove for 45 years and one that was converted to an avocado farm 20 years ago. We experienced the strange contrast of standing in orange groves against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains.
The second plot was located on the Biolea Estate that produces olive oil using traditional stone-ground processing methods. Olive trees are the most popular cultivation in Crete, covering 64% of the arable land and representing 86% of the tree plantations on the island. Conventional practices often lead to on-site and off-site environmental problems, such as soil erosion. In older olive grove, tillage erosion is present in areas where mechanical equipment is being used, reaching losses of up to 50 cm during the last 40 years. The researchers are comparing soil erosion rates between two 24-year old fields with loam soil that have not been tilled in the last 7 years. One will service as a control and the other will be tilled in April 2017.
Jane and Julie left Crete with much accomplished and plans made for the coming year.
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Programme for research and innovation grant agreement no 633814.