Stakeholders in EJP SOIL: There is a need for knowledge and applicable tools

According to stakeholders who will take part in the EJP SOIL, there is a need for knowledge sharing and tools that can be applied in soil management, but also a better overall recognition of the challenges. This calls for a continuous dialogue and collaboration between farmers, soil scientists, advisors, organisations and authorities.

Setting the direction for the future of agricultural soils - Farmer, Mr. Zigmantas Aleksandravicius with Mr. Virginijus Feiza, PhD and Head of the Department Soil and Crop management, Institute of Agriculture, LAMMC - Investigations at farm field level in Lithuania 2012, Photo by Dr. Dalia Feiziene (LAMMC)

Climate change projections predict major environmental changes for Europe, which will increase the probability of erosion, soil degradation and landslides, and potentially increase nutrients leaching in northern areas, while exposing other Mediterranean areas to periods of drought and heat waves and increased wind erosion. These changes require European agriculture to adapt to these changes and become more resilient to extreme events. Yet, why is the adoption of known and approved measures not implemented? Stakeholders play an essential role in gaining insight about the current state of knowledge availability and the current use of knowledge across Europe.

Economic barriers and lack of political acknowledgement

In Lithuania, more dry windy days are registered, and soil ground water level is lower than it used to be in the past. Mr. Aleksandravicius, a local Lithuanian farmer, estimates that the rain-fed agriculture will not ensure requirements of crop growing conditions even under moderate climatic conditions.

“More and more farmers in Lithuania understand that they must take care of their land to improve its quality”, says Mr. Aleksandravicius “Farmers will drop out from business if they do not pay serious attention to this situation”.

However, according to Mr. Aleksandravicius, many big farms lease their land for agricultural production. This is problematic for soil quality improvement, as farmers do not wish to risk the financial investment because the landowner may cancel the lease agreement at any time.

Likewise, in Turkey, 75% of the land is open to water and wind erosion. Professor Dr. Ortas from Cukurova University states that farmers are aware of the contribution of organic matter on soil fertility, but have no sufficient income and thus, no opportunity to support soil fertility.

This demonstrates that actions in stopping the damages are highly dependent on societal, scientific, policy, economic and educational capacities.

Professor Dr. Ortas draws attention to the fact that the public and the government do not understand the increased concern about soil productivity and fertility. It is not acknowledged that soils are the limited sources of food supply for humanity now and in the future. Raising general public awareness and improving understanding of agricultural soil management is a prerequisite for successful execution of climate-smart sustainable management solutions.

Developed, shared, harmonised and applicable knowledge is key

National and local knowledge as well as farming practices are all together fundamental to dealing with these challenges. The European Environmental Action Programme, FAO, Common Agricultural Programme, Global Soil Partnership, and other international initiatives are calling for increased knowledge on sustainable soil management and the protection of soils functions.

A farmer has done a good job if his farm and land is in better condition when passing it on to the next generation than it was when he received it from his predecessor”. Old Danish saying

 “We need knowledge about stored carbon from a wide range of perspectives. How do we convince our farmers to change their soil management practices, without knowing how to turn this negative tendency around to the better?” says Troels Toft from SEGES, a Danish farmer organisation.

As advisor, Mr. Toft is eager to get insight into how the development on carbon storage has been across Europe the past thirty years. With less resilient soils and crops and with climate conditions that are more extreme than we can manage at this point, we need to learn from experience. We may be able to predict coming conditions by looking to our neighbours across Europe.

Strong link between research and farmers – Less talk, more options for action

Mr. Toft stresses the importance of finding tools farmers can apply in their daily planning and soil management. “We need continuous dialogue and collaboration between the soil scientists, farmer organisations and advisors for the efforts to matter”. Farmers must be equipped with the latest knowledge and tools to act and apply the right solutions.

   “We need a new straight-forward recipe and continuous updates about research findings and outcomes to know that we are doing the right thing. We encourage that strong link between research and the farmer”, says Mr. Toft. “The farmers wish to do the right thing. We want less talk and more specific options for action”.  

Keep focus on agricultural soil management implementation

“Politicians must also focus on the soil management implementation”, says Mr. Toft. “We have to find ways to make soils and crops more resilient and make farmers aware of what it takes to do so. Therefore, there has to be a continuous and strong focus on implementation”. Solutions must be accessible and applicable at all farms all the way out to the most rural corners of Europe.

Joint responsibility for success

Farmers are co-responsible for the success of implementation.  According to Mr. Toft, it is the farmers’ call to request the necessary means from their suppliers i.e. the agro-industry. The individual farmer has the means to set conditions for his soil management systems and do the calculation of profitable long-term investment. The farmer becomes the gatekeeper. If the farmer does not want to change his ways, nothing will change.

This demonstrates the interconnectedness and the shared responsibility between the groups of key stakeholders involved in the EJP SOIL programme.

Mr. Toft confirms this stand, “everyone involved must accept that there is no ´’Quick fix’. Everyone is in for the long haul that requires fierce determination and patience for generations to come”. 

Mr. Toft tells about the old saying in Denmark that goes “A farmer has done a good job if his farm and land is in better condition when passing it on to the next generation than it was when he received it from his predecessor”. “This still holds true to farmers around the world”, says Mr. Toft. “Let us hold on to that and build something better for the generations to come”.