Roadmap reports & publications

Roadmap for the European Joint Programme SOIL

Reading guide

The purpose of this roadmap is to identify research and research capacity and infrastructure strengthening activities to be implemented by the consortium with the objective to reach the EJP SOIL outcomes and contribute to the long term expected impacts. These activities are the tasks in the work packages and projects that will be called for in funding calls. The document is organized as follows:

  • Chapter 2 addresses the vision of EJP SOIL and the adopted theoretical frameworks:
    • i) a knowledge framework to put knowledge to use;
    • ii) connections between sustainable soil management practices, soil functions, and EJP SOIL target areas; and
    • iii) an approach to account for regional diversity in Europe.
  • Chapter 3 provides a general introduction to EJP SOIL and a short overview of the methodology used to identify the European wide knowledge needs for sustainable, climate-smart soil management.
  • Chapter 4 describes the activities that need to take place to achieve the six expected outcomes of EJP SOIL. The chapter starts with the rationale behind the subdivision of the outcome areas followed by these sections:
    • a) an introduction explaining the importance of outcome area,
    • b) the ‘state-of-the-art’ in that outcome area,
    • c) a description of the identified research gaps, and
    • d) the required outputs. Each section ends with a list of activities that will lead to the outputs. These activities can be tasks taken up in the EJP SOIL work packages or funded research projects.
  • Chapter 5 provides the rationale behind the approach for all EJP SOIL activities with a focus on the research projects within the programme. The roadmap annexes provide,
    • i) the maps used to account for regional diversity within Europe (Annex 1), and
    • ii) a list of topics identified in the roadmap with a short description of each (Annex 2).

The roadmap will be updated annually with information from within and outside the programme to identify topics that will guide programme activities.  

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Abstract: Synthesis of the impact of sustainable soil management practices in Europe

This synthesis identifies the knowledge about the sustainable soil management practices and their biophysical and socio-economical impacts, as reported by the research teams of the different EJP SOIL participating countries.

Most reported practices were in the group of “Crop and cropping systems”, followed by the group “Soil tillage and cover”. The three most reported impacts related to sustainable soil management practices were “Soil quality”, “Nutrients in the soil”, and “Soil Structure”, while the impacts “Desertification”, “Readiness for use”, and “Other socio-economic” were the less reported.

The impacts of sustainable soil practices were also related to the EJP SOIL challenges. The three most reported challenges were “Enhance nutrient use efficiency”, “Maintain/increase SOC”, and “Improve soil structure”, while “Avoid acidification”, “Avoid salinisation/alkalinisation”, “Avoid N2O and CH4 emissions from soils” were rarely reported.

These results can be related to varying levels of knowledge or awareness about the sustainable soil practices that can contribute to the different soil challenges.  

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Abstract: Stocktaking on soil quality indicators and associated decision support tools, including ICT tools

This synthesis shows recent and current efforts in Europe related to the establishment of soil indicators as parameters used to quantify and valuate impacts of agricultural soil management practices on soil quality. It also shows how the existing indicators have been used.

Among the best captured soil parameters across all participating countries are carbon concentration in soils and its changes in time, macronutrients (N, P, K) and micronutrients (Cu, Mn) contents in soils, soil pH, cation exchange capacity and base saturation of soils, soil texture and bulk density, and contamination with potentially toxic elements, especially Cd, Co, Cr, Cu, Ni, Pb and Zn.

However, there is only partial agreement between the measured parameters and the indicators used in the national legislations and as policy maker´s tools.   

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Abstract: Synthesis on estimates of achievable soil carbon sequestration on agricultural land across Europe

This synthesis identifies the available knowledge of achievable carbon sequestration in mineral soils and GHGs mitigation in organic soils in agricultural land, including pasture/grassland across Europe. The inventory of past and current studies on carbon sequestration and GHGs mitigation measures in agricultural soils and the methodology used for the assessment were considered from 25 Member states (MS) across Europe.

The stocktake shows that availability of datasets concerning soil carbon sequestration (SCS) is variable among Europe. While northern Europe and central Europe is relatively well studied, there is a lack of studies comprising parts of Southern, Southeaster and Western Europe.

Further, it can be concluded that at present country based knowledge and engagement is still poor; very few countries have an idea on their national-wide achievable carbon sequestration potential. The presented national SCS potentials (MS n=13) do however point towards important contributions to mitigate climate change by covering considerable shares of national greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector in the range of 1-28.5 %, underpinning the importance of further investigations.

In contrast to mineral soils, effective mitigation measures for organic soils while maintaining industrial agricultural production are still in its infancy. Very few mitigation options exist to mitigate GHG emissions without compromising agricultural production. Most GHG mitigation practices reported by the MS involve the restoration of organic soils, which means a complete abandonment of land from any agricultural use. Only one contribution (NL) reports possible mitigation potentials, which are based on specific water management measures (water level fixation).

Nevertheless, there is an increasing awareness of the need of mitigation measures reflected by the several ongoing research projects on peatland management.  

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Abstract: Report on identified regional, national and European aspirations on soil services and soil functions

This report contributes to the EJP SOIL roadmap for climate-smart sustainable agricultural soil management and research by identifying current policy targets and realizations and setting soil service aspirational goals by 2050 at the regional/national (Chapter 2) and European scale (Chapter 3). At both scales, the report is based on a desk study of current agricultural soil related policies, followed by a stakeholder consultation. Twenty countries/regions have contributed to the regional/national analyses and 347 different stakeholders have provided their views on soil policy.

The policy analysis demonstrates that large differences exist between the number of policy targets per soil challenge. In general, the soil challenge ‘Maintaining/increasing soil organic carbon’ can be considered as the most important soil challenge taking into account both the policies of the participating countries and of the EU level. This soil challenge not only has (one of) the largest share(s) of quantitative and qualitative targets, but also has a large share of the targets for which an indicator and monitoring is in progress or existing. At the EU level, ‘Avoiding contamination’ is also particularly high addressed in policy documents. In the participating countries, other very important soil challenges in policy are ‘Enhance nutrient retention/use efficiency’, ‘Avoid soil erosion’ and ‘Avoid soil contamination’. These soil challenges comprise a large share of soil- and agricultural soil specific targets. However, despite the large number of policy targets, identified by the participating EJP SOIL countries, there is still a shared need for appropriate clear (quantified) policy targets with a specific time horizon, well-defined indicators and a monitoring systems. Similar results are found at the EU level. Policy targets addressing soil challenges are mostly not expressed in quantitative terms and indicators for monitoring policy targets with references to soil challenges were identified for less than half of the cases.

From the stakeholder consultations, it becomes clear that for all soil challenges there is still a way to go before future aspirational goals will be met. Generally, when averaging between all countries, the gap between current policy targets and realizations is for most soil challenges considered between large and halfway in reaching the current policy targets and for most soil challenges current policy targets are regarded almost- to- far from being futureproof.

In the prioritization of soil challenges, stakeholders at the regional/country and European level, clearly marked maintaining/increasing SOC as the most relevant soil challenge in the upcoming decades. The stakeholders explain the key role of maintaining/increasing soil organic carbon through the multiple interactions with other soil challenges and for climate change mitigation. At the EU level, the second highest ranked prioritization is soil sealing, due to its irreversible nature. This is, however, not reflected at the country level, potentially due to a misinterpretation of soil sealing as compaction by part of the stakeholders. At the country level, enhancing soil nutrient retention/use efficiency was ranked 2nd in the prioritization exercise.

Generally, there is an urgency for policy updates, because the current policy is considered unable to tackle the prominent soil challenges.

In the report, also the soil related management practices to achieve the aspirational goals have been identified, both in the policy analysis and in the stakeholder consultation. The most prominent differences between policy and stakeholders, is in the emphasis on the use of buffer strips and small landscape elements in policy, while measures in this category are less highly ranked by the stakeholders. On the other hand, conservation agriculture, agro-ecological farming, precision agriculture, incorporation of crop residues and controlled traffic farming are soil management techniques highly listed by the stakeholders, but less in policy.

Specific knowledge needs were emphasized for almost all soil challenges and for the land management categories at the regional/national and EU level. Apart from answers on specific questions on management options or instruments to achieve soil challenge aspirations, five themes of recommendations could be extracted from the country reports:

(i) multi-stakeholder participation in a holistic perspective,

(ii) appropriate policy targets, indicators and monitoring systems,

(iii) (marketdriven) economic incentives,

(iv) knowledge and knowledge sharing and

(v) innovative and data-driven soil management.   

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Abstract: Set of reports on State of knowledge in agricultural soil management

For the advancement of climate-smart sustainable management of agricultural soils, we have to know more about three major topics of soil research, namely 1. Soil carbon stocks, 2. Soil degradation and fertility, and 3. Strategies for improved soil management. This report addresses state-of-the-art knowledge on these topics by bringing together the expertise of 254 members of the EJP SOIL consortium and by reviewing more than 1,800 documents. Based on this aggregation of available knowledge we identify major knowledge gaps raised by several authors.

Regarding the first topic, ‘Carbon stocks’, the analysis of European literature and national inputs identified the following main knowledge needs: Assessment and mapping of SOC under various management practices as well as life cycle assessment of management options beyond farm scale; the effect of C-enhancing management measures on GHG emissions; standardised approaches for SOC assessment across nations; the influence of management and environmental factors on deep soil carbon; SOC spatial and temporal dynamics; more information on SOC sequestration potentials of different soils across Europe; monitoring of SOC changes in long-term field experiments; the impacts of policies on C sequestration and means of transfer of information to relevant stakeholders; mapping peatlands and estimating their SOC stocks.

Regarding ‘Soil degradation and fertility’ the following knowledge needs were revealed by the review of national inputs as well as by EU projects and literature: Modelling and monitoring changes in SOC at different scales and climates; soil mineral SOC interaction in relation to soil structure, productivity and soil nutrients; impact of field traffic and livestock trampling on soil structure; soil functions and plant growth in different pedo-climatic zones; development of engineering solutions to limit risk of compaction; assessment of soil compaction impact in a changing climate and regulation measures to prevent soil structure degradation; improved monitoring programmes for wind, water and tillage erosion; development of site-specific soil erosion models and improved validation of the models; monitoring programmes and harmonised monitoring systems for pollutants; optimizing the use of plants for remediation of contaminated soils and the need for long-term soil remediation experiments; monitoring programmes of soil salinization and the impact of climate change on salinization risk; quantification of soil sealing; and, finally, systematic monitoring of soil acidification on non-forest soil.

For the topic ‘Strategies for improved soil management’, numerous knowledge needs have been mentioned, such as: Monitoring programmes for different soil parameters to be used for soil sustainable management decisions; monitoring and modelling sustainable soil management practices at a site-specific level under different climate change scenarios; need for a common conceptual understanding of crop/cover crop rotations and the effects of diversification – to be created at cultivar and genetic level; spatial and temporal dynamics of C and nutrients in the soil-plant-atmosphere system; multidisciplinary/comprehensive studies of cover cropping, intercropping and perennial cropping under different pedo-climatic conditions and with consideration for climate change; assessment of the effect of different organic amendments on soil C storage, GHG emissions, productivity, nutrient losses, water availability and soil quality; assessment of management practices to mitigate subsoil compaction and practices for efficient water management (site-specific) in a changing climate.

For all of the three addressed topics, more specific knowledge gaps were identified either from the European projects and literature or from the national inputs. In a general analysis of the three topics, peatlands, models and monitoring, and soil compaction were overarching issues, which demand assessment and improved management. The need for harmonised soil data and aligned monitoring programmes were also identified as key issues. This report provides a list of important general and specific aspects within the three addressed topics, which are fundamental for setting the targets for the EJP SOIL research roadmap.  

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Abstract: Report on the current availability and use of soil knowledge

This report provides a synthesis of stakeholders’ perceptions of knowledge on and use of knowledge on sustainable soil management, as well as the knowledge needs. The report is based on interviews with 791 stakeholders in 23 European countries completed in the summer of 2020 in the context of the EJP SOIL project.

The analysis highlights a number of shortcomings in the current use and coordination of knowledge on sustainable soil management. For instance, insufficient communication and coordination between policymakers, researchers and farmers is reported. Most national reports stress that, currently, the promotion of knowledge on sustainable soil management towards stakeholders is ineffective. Challenges, for instance, arise because the theoretical knowledge produced at universities is considered irrelevant or inaccessible to farmers who have a practical approach to soil management. It is also reported that there is too little continuity in soil research due to project dependence, which is a challenge because soil research requires long-term investigations. Furthermore, current research insufficiently supports integrated decision-making of practitioners and policymakers, where different challenges and trade-offs continuously must be balanced. In some countries, this is partly due to insufficient funding for dissemination activities, whereas in other countries funding is not utilized correctly. Additionally, reports broadly agree that there is too little continuity in research due to project dependence, which is challenging because soil research requires long-term investigations.

In relation to specific areas, knowledge gaps regarding the loss of soil organic matter, carbon sequestration and exploring the effects of climate change, mitigation and preventive measures. were identified. A range of other areas also appear as highly important in certain regions − for instance, ensuring an optimal soil structure, enhancing soil biodiversity, water storage capacity, soil nutrient retention and use efficiency.

To overcome these challenges, stakeholders stress that it is important to improve the coordination between policy, research, industry, advisory services and farmers because knowledge about field activities and sustainable soil management is fragmented and poorly coordinated. Thus, stakeholders stress that it is important to strengthen intermediaries, such as the advisory service and farmers’ associations, as they are important knowledge brokers, both in terms of improving knowledge availability and to provide feedback on knowledge gaps to research institutions. Additionally, the need for strengthening networks and peer-to-peer communication is emphasized because these are useful platforms for knowledge exchange. Furthermore, it is important to provide incentives for farmers and improve the visibility of soil challenges for stakeholders, for instance using decision support tools to highlight the benefit of adopting sustainable soil management.   

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Abstract: Inventory of the use of models for accounting and policy support (soil quality and soil carbon)

This report presents a picture of the inventory of the different models accounting and monitoring soil quality and soil carbon stocks used in 21 different countries in Europe, and especially for the reporting of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to the UNFCCC (UNFCCC, 2020). The report synthesizes the information collected regarding the use of these models both at national and farm scale, as well as information of other models for soil quality monitoring, by different actors (policy making, farmers, and extension services).

The study identified a big variability in the models used at national level and GHG reporting, where the Yasso07 model is currently the most widely used, and with several countries planning its implementation in the future.

The number of models used at the farm scale to estimate SOC change presented an even bigger variability than those reported at the national scale, including some of the models included in the national scale, but also incorporating smaller spatial models intended for use at the farm scale, at the field scale or even at smaller scales. Most of the models are intended for mineral soils, both arable or grasslands, and only a few are reported for organic soils and/or other land use.

A big heterogeneity was also present in the reported soil quality models (besides those used for accounting for SOC change). Two models included in the national and farm scale are also included here (RothC and Yasso07). The most reported soil quality models focus on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions estimation and leaching, and are mainly related to the nitrogen cycle, but also to other nutrients, and soil physical properties.

Our results show that synergies derived from European collaborations are not fully used but offer the possibility to enhance the quality of model applications for national GHG reporting and at smaller scales for the support of farm management.  

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Abstract: Stocktake study and recommendations for harmonizing methodologies for fertilization guidelines

A stocktake study and recommendations for harmonizing methodologies for fertilization guidelines across regions was carried out as part of EJP SOIL WP 2 ‘Developing a Roadmap for EU Agricultural Soil Management’. The stocktake revealed substantial differences in the content, format and delivery of current fertilization guidelines across members of EJP SOIL. Fertilization guidelines are developed within individual countries according to the agronomic requirements of the agricultural crops grown. The stocktake study revealed that numerous soil tests are used to analyse plant available nutrients and these are very different between one country to the next, and between neighbouring countries within the same environmental zone. Larger countries even have variation in soil analysis methods regionally within the same jurisdiction. Fertilization guidelines are largely developed by a committee of representative stakeholders within each country, who meet on a regular or in some cases infrequent basis. The general consensus from EJP SOIL participants was that harmonization across the EU could be increased in terms of shared learning in the delivery and format of fertilization guidelines and mechanisms to adhere to environmental legislation. However, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to harmonize soil test data and agronomic requirements at an EU-wide level due to differences in soil type and agro-ecosystem variations. Nevertheless, increased future collaboration between neighbouring countries within the same environmental zone was seen as potentially very beneficial.  

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