iSQAPER Toolkit: H2020 research conclusions for policymakers

This paper presents the project’s policy recommendations and ‘toolkit’ to help policymakers, researchers and land managers better monitor and assess soils at local, regional and continental scales.

Soils perform many production, ecosystem and climate regulation functions. The quality of agricultural soils (in particular arable soils) is decreasing internationally and is of concern for both the delivery of environmental, development and economic and social goals.

The European Environmental Agency assessed the condition of soils in Europe to be deteriorating, and not on track to meet environmental goals in the sector for either 2020 and 2030, partly as a result of intensive agriculture1. Better understanding soil quality, its protection and improvement is thus essential to support a transition to a resilient and sustainable rural economy.

Challenges and Opportunities

The heterogeneity of soil types, climate zones and farming systems means that soil quality assessment and management needs to target location-specific soil functions or soil threats. Moreover, policy goals should focus on balancing the soil’s functions, and not single out one function alone.

Results from long-term experiments as well as farm surveys completed under iSQAPER have identified that key management practices, reduced tillage, organic agriculture, organic matter inputs and crop rotation, have positive impact on soil quality.

It can take many years to reach the potential positive changes needed in soil quality, and policy instruments need to reflect this. Land managers need predictability and long-term certainty in order to implement measures optimally and invest as needed. At the same time, monitoring needs to be adaptable and dynamic enough to give accurate reflections of changes in the shorter to medium term.

Policies need to be developed that promote soil quality as an integral part of agriculture’s economic and environmental resilience. Within the European Union, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is central to the ability to address soil quality questions. While actions under the CAP are important in their own right, the CAP is also key to operationalising other policy goals highly relevant to soil quality delivery including biodiversity, climate regulation and water protection.

The iSQAPER project has developed a ‘toolkit’ that can be used to help policy makers, researchers and land managers to better monitor and assess soils at local, regional and continental scales, for better decision making and improved soil quality. These tools should be incorporated in the European Green Deal policy architecture in order to better account for the crucial role of soil quality.

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1. European Environment Agency (2019b), The European Environment – state and outlook 2020 (Chapter 5).

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