Keep your soils alive: Caring for below-ground biodiversity using Soil-improving Cropping Systems
An interesting relationship exists between the organisms in our soil and the crops in our fields. If managed sustainably, cropping systems can nurture the creatures in the soil, which in return feed and protect the crops. In recognition of the importance of this soil biodiversity, this year’s World Soil Day (5th December) is dedicated to the theme “Keep soil alive, protect soil biodiversity”.
Nurturing below-ground biodiversity is a key element of the Soil-improving Cropping Systems (SICS) that are being trialled as part of SoilCare, an EU-funded research project. This project is identifying ways of improving soil health through cropping systems and techniques that benefit both the profitability of farms and the environment.
Around 30 different soil-improving cropping systems are being trialled across 16 countries in Europe. Each of these trials are being assessed for their impacts on soil biodiversity. Several types of crop are being studied, ranging from cereals, such as wheat, barley, maize, to fruits, such as vineyards, olives and peaches. The different soil-improving cropping practices, such as the use of diverse crop rotations, cover crops, organic fertilisers and amendments and reduced tillage, amongst others, aim to improve farm profitability and life within the soil. The latest project results show that these practices affect the composition and diversity of fungi, one of the organisms in the soil food-web responsible for many soil functions. However, the effects on diversity were very much dependent on the site, crop, and practise used. Less intensive practises did in most cases favour beneficial organisms and reduced the numbers of pathogenic organisms.
Project co-ordinator Dr Hessel of Wageningen Environmental Research said; “In SoilCare we are working with farmers and scientists to identify the practices that will benefit the soil biodiversity as we know these organisms keep the soil healthy and fertile which in turn benefits the crops. The results of all our trials will be available by the end of the year and we are very excited to be able to identify potential practices that not only improve farm profitability but also benefit the living soil. One of the most important goals of the SoilCare project now is to ensure that farmers and the agricultural industry know about the results of these trials so that there can be a shift to soil-improving cropping systems across Europe.”
1 – For more details on the project see http://www.soilcare-project.eu
2 – For a media pack, including photographs, please contact Jane Mills, Countryside and Community Research Institute, University of Gloucestershire, Cheltenham, UK Jmills@glos.ac.uk +44 1242 714137 @Jane__Mills
3 – This project is supported by the EU H2020 programme.