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.