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Other European states’ experiences: Soil scientists are often disregarded “Cassandras”

Our newsletter purposely avoids scientific topics related to soil, because we would especially like to address so-called “non-experts”. At the same time, these last understand how important soil, territory and landscape are for our future and for future generations. Thus, they believe it is no longer time to stay back but rather act on it.

This does not mean that our “intellectual humus” comes from the constant yet silent work from a large number of soil researchers. Some readers have sent us information on ongoing or recently terminated research suggesting more awareness raising on them via our newsletter. We would therefore like to mention briefly two European research projects and the article entitled Climate-smart soils, from the Nature edition of 7 April 2016

SmartSoil Project

The growing lack of organic matter such as carbon is among the most alarming problems affecting soil. People all over the world are looking for solutions bearing in mind that fertilizers and pesticides will not be able to escape the demands of agricultural production.

A European consortium of researchers from Denmark, Hungary, Italy, Spain, Great Britain, Germany, Poland, Belgium and the Netherlands worked together to afford this question. The SmartSOIL project researched ways of improving agricultural production, by maintaining and increasing soil fertility. They were able to create a specific supporting tool for farmers and applicable to various weather conditions. The device  was conceived as a «simple, effective, easy to use and based on scientific evidence » tool. In this way a « toolbox » was created based on : rotation of crops, organic waste management, the adding of manure and compost, plant cover in many forms or row intercropping, protective agriculture (reduced tillage, organic waste management, handling of soil covering plants). In other words, the focus is on accumulating organic matter onto soil, and protecting it from climate agents. However, not all types of soil react in the same manner therefore the toolbox is particularly valid for the more mineralized ones.

Novihum project.

Novihum stands for “new humus” and refers to a chemical reaction, which reactivates carbon molecules and lignite and turns them into an organic compost like that found in fertile land. All farmers know how organic waste have a positive impact on soil and how they react differently according to the kind of soil. The German researchers with Novihum use a different approach: instead of following the course of nature, they attempt to use biotechnologies to revert soil depletion. This means enriching carbon fossils – by adding nitrogen and oxygen which linking with the lignin structure – will once again make it rich with carbon under form of granules. In experimental plots, this compost of granules has led to the recovery of degraded and arid types of soil with a general improvement and an impressive increase in agricultural production.

Nature article: Climate-smart soils

This article, published by some US and British researchers, discusses how to reduce greenhouse gas effects. The importance of soil-related action is clearly addressed. To weaken the greenhouse gas effect, integrated research and implementation platform (as shown in the image below) require specific awareness and support. However, it also implies incentives for farmers to start adopting alternative practices. These incentives could be in the form of: i) specific laws or taxes; ii) subsidies; iii) initiatives in the food marketing chain; iv) emission caps – gradually lower and lower – for those greenhouse gas “emitters”.