4 per 1000 initiative: Indicators on organic and biological state of soil

The aim of the 4 per 1000 Initiative is to share experiences involving land, research work, agricultural practices and policies aimed at increasing soil-related awareness and their potential in carbon accumulation.

To improve soil quality and evaluate the changes in agricultural practices, it is necessary to have comparative data on the state of soil. These are so called “indicators” and they are the results of observation, analysis, studying and modelling. The indicators are important for farmers and other stakeholders in terms of selecting the right management in a context which tends to improve the organic and biological state of soil.

Within the 4 per 1000 Initiative framework, the French Ministry of Agriculture gathered a panel of experts to produce a short document entitled “Indicators on organic and biological state of soil”. The idea was to produce a “living” document which – beginning from a description of existing indicators – would need regular updates following contributions, critiques and suggestions from various users. The document must therefore be used, verified and amended, by staying in touch with the network which produced it and that refers to the Scientific and Technical Committee of the Initiative. The aim here is to obtain a short document which can be used by various stakeholders, including politicians which often ask for comparative data on soil.

Each indicator is described by explaining what exactly has been measured, who uses it and why. It also clarifies how measurements and estimates are made, the stage of the analytical method and its results, the degree of certainty of the results, and finally the advantages and disadvantages.

The qualitative and quantitative indicators of organic matter are mainly about the amount of carbon and nitrogen present. Indicators on the biological state emphasize the presence of microbiological factors (soil “breathing”, microbial biomass, enzyme activity…) and wildlife factors (earthworm, nematodes, micro-arthropods).

The first version of the document is already available (in French) and can be downloaded from the website of the Ministry, however a new version is expected to be published soon. For this purpose, we ask those interested to send their comments in by 15 March 2017 to the following address: indicateurs_sols.dgpe@agriculture.gouv.fr.

For the moment, this document is for soil experts only. Despite the complexity of the indicators described, the use of this document can gradually become more “simple” especially if we were to install a dialogue and a privileged communication channel between those following the indicator updates and development, and those physically working on land.