EU’s healthy soil project digs deep to restore and conserve better crops
20 Mar 2023 --- An EU cash injection of €5 million (US$5.3 million) aims to boost the conservation and restoration of soil health as part of a recently launched project dubbed InBestSoil.
The project partners are discussing the first steps, which will be carried out over the next four years, with the participation of private companies, universities, NGOs, farmers' associations, and other entities from different European countries.
InBestSoil will assess and express the inherent economic value of healthy soil.
“Our mission is to emphasize the fundamental importance of soils for our well-being and livelihoods, and tackle the central challenges of our time,” says Diego Soto Gómez, coordinator of InBestSoil project and researcher at the University of Vigo, which is managing the project.
“Soil is a critical link between global environmental issues such as climate change, water management, and biodiversity loss. At the same time, it is an essential non-renewable resource for agriculture, providing the basis for producing food and other necessary resources for the circular economy.”
Gómez notes that the project has long-term aims as part of the EU’s broader plans.
“InBestSoil aims to contribute to developing the EU Soil Strategy for 2030 by co-creating an enabling framework for investments in the conservation and restoration of soil health.”
“Sixty to 70% of European soils are severely or moderately degraded by compaction, contamination, erosion and loss of organic matter,” notes InBestSoil.
“According to the European Commission, soil degradation costs more than €50 billion (US$53.4 billion) per year only in the EU, and the global cost ranges from five to eight trillion per year. Thus, the benefits of soil restoration exceed the costs by a factor of six.”
Experimental soil assessment
To exemplify its value, InBestSoil will assess various critical soil functions, “from fiber and food production to its role in preserving the cultural heritage.”
Experimental “lighthouse” areas and “Living Labs” have been selected throughout Europe, where soil health improvement techniques will be used and studied.
Different regions and techniques will be analyzed, such as a Spanish meadow area where agropastoralism is utilized to regenerate soil depleted by conventional agriculture or peri-urban areas in Vilnius and Zagreb, where agriculture improves soil infiltration and reduces the incidence of flooding.
Similar studies include fields of a Dutch initiative that aims to diversify farmers’ production in the area and increase soil fertility by including lupines in their rotations, as well as two abandoned mines whose soils have been rehabilitated and a boreal forest where remains from the timber industry are used to improve soil characteristics.
Such improvements and solutions will be analyzed at relevant lighthouses while developing a framework enabling companies to invest in said solutions.
The EU has been assessing the viability of new solutions for adapting and enhancing soil health across the continent, especially in the wake of the FAO’s report two years ago of dangerous levels of microplastics within agricultural soil.
To combat similarly toxic pesticides and their various effects, a recent study by GLOBAL 2000 champions the use of natural microorganisms as a natural alternative to pesticides. The organisms both mitigate pests and improve the health of the soil in which they are present.
Similarly, Dutch data collection specialist Eurofins Agro Testing has introduced the Soil Carbon Check, a new system that provides customers with information on how much carbon is sequestered in their soil, how stable their soil carbon is and how it can be improved. The new farm screening platform also tracks how the carbon content of soil changes over time.
By James Davies
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