Lithuanian political outlook on the development of soil sustainability

Practical results from EJP SOIL will be a baseline for politicians to draw up the guidelines for future economic development and for the creation of legislative processes. It is of paramount significance to know what soil resources are available and what can be expected from potential soil productivity.

Soil profile investigation of clay loam Endocalcary-Endohypogleyic Cambisol. This soil type is located in the North part of Lithuania. Soil is productive by origin, heavy textured, with neutral pH, while hard to manage. Tillage timeliness is a crucial factor to get good crop establishment. Photograph by assoc. prof. Jonas Volungevi?ius (LAMMC).

We who live at present, stand on the foundations of the past, and attempt to foresee the future. The activities of agriculture follow the same pattern: they rely on past and present resources - soil, landscape and climate, while the future of agriculture is like a road under construction.

Current challenges of Lithuanian soils

In Lithuania, there are 12 typological soil groups, out of the 24 found in the EU countries. Most of them are morainic mineral in origin, glacially formed about 12-10 thousand years ago, and dominate the country. The soils of glacial lacustrine origin such as organic (peat) soils are also found in some areas in lowlands. Unfortunately, the content of humus within the topsoil (0-20 cm) layer of mineral soils rarely exceeds 3-4%. It generally totals around 1% or even less. The low organic matter content in the soil is still one of the most relevant problems to be tackled in order to improve the productivity of agricultural soils. Not many farms in Lithuania are involved in mixed farming, embracing both livestock rearing and crop production activities.

Furthermore, another challenge in Lithuania is undulating landscape prevailing in the eastern and western parts of the country. As a rule, mineral soils on hilly land are naturally acidic pH (3.5-5.0) and need to be limed periodically to maintain a suitable growing environment for some agricultural crops (e.g. winter wheat, herbaceous perennial legumes). In the future adaptation practices for the cultivation of acid-friendly crops can be extended.

In addition, a third feature of Lithuanian soils is a low status of plant available macronutrients. Such soils often have a poor and unstable soil structure. They are sensitive to compaction, which inhibits crop growth, increases the risk of waterlogging in the case of excess rainfall, or while under rainwater shortage, the plant roots cannot reach the ground water due to compacted layer.

In 2018, the Ministry of Agriculture published a book entitled “White Book for Agriculture and Rural Development”. This publication lays out the long-term political measures for rural and agricultural development by the year 2030. The problems related to soil management are described and measures to improve soil sustainability are presented. With this publication, it is expected that measures will have a significant impact on sustainable soil management in Lithuania. Particular attention is focused on improving the efficiency of the use of nutrients and reducing the need for chemical plant protection products.

Lithuania’s soils: the present and the future

In the autumn of 2019, a scientific-practical discussion “The state of Lithuania’s soils: the present and the future” was organized by LAMMC. EJP SOIL partner Dr. Virginijus Feiza (LAMMC) reported on the present state of soils in Lithuania, which is the topic of particular interest for farmers, officials and mass media. Scientists, policy makers and representatives of agri-business sector discussed the current state of multi-functionality of agricultural soils in Lithuania as well as soil service perspectives in the future.

A revised Code for Good Agricultural Practices was introduced to the participants (link to Code in Lithuanian). The Code includes recommendations and advice on how to manage agricultural soils, utilise water and air resources in order to mitigate the negative effects on climate and how to adjust to the changes of the environment. The Code also provides a list of national legal rules and the EU legislative acts currently in force on agricultural activities. Participants at the event discussion agreed that agricultural soil management must be evaluated according to its environment-friendliness, agronomic acceptability, and economic viability.

Participants of the discussion: (from left to right): dr. Jonas Volungevičius, LAMMC senior scientist, associate professor of Vilnius University; prof. Gediminas Staugaitis, director of LAMMC Chemical Research Laboratory, academician of LAS; dr. Virginijus Feiza, head of Department of Soil and Crop Management, LAMMC Institute of Agriculture; Mr. Petras Puskunigis, president of the Association of Lithuanian Agricultural Companies; Mr. Aušrys Macijauskas, chairman of the Lithuanian Grain Growers’ Association; Ms. Dovilė Karlonienė, chief specialist (Nature Protection and Forest Policy Group) the Ministry of Environment of the Republic of Lithuania; Mr. Saulius Jasius, senior advisor of Sustainable Agricultural Production Policy Group, the Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic of Lithuania.

Linking research and practice of the agricultural sector

According to Mr. Saulius Jasius, a senior advisor of Sustainable Agricultural Production Policy Group the Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic of Lithuania, the outstanding feature of the EJP SOIL programme is that it links research and practice of the agricultural sector.

“First, it is of great importance for the Ministry of Agriculture of Lithuania to see the practical outcomes of the EJP Soil activities.” Mr. Saulius Jasius continues, “The practical results will be a baseline for politicians to draw up the guidelines for future economic development of our country and for creation of legislative process.”

Everyone agreed that knowledge of what soil resources are available in European agriculture and what potential of soil productivity can be expected to feed the growing population of the world is of paramount significance.

From the political and practical viewpoint, it is important to have knowledge about what changes occur in soils under different climatic conditions. An evaluation of the results of long-term field experiments will reveal these changes in fundamental properties of soils and possible reduction of CO2 emission from managed soils.

In the future, it will be necessary for agricultural policy to account accurately for soil emissions and its potential to absorb CO2 under local conditions.

“We anticipate that the EJP SOIL programme will produce not only arithmetically calculated but also site-measured data concerning the GHG emission at a country level,” says Mr. Saulius Jasius.  

Finally, Mr. Jasius expresses that as member of the Ministry of Agriculture in Lithuania he is looking forward to acquiring new knowledge and expertise during EJP SOIL workshops, field days and conferences.

“The wider the range of soil-related problems that will be addressed, the more valuable practical recommendations the stakeholders can expect.“ Mr. Saulius concludes, “The EJP SOIL programme is ambitious and I wish every success to all organizers to reach the goals.”