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LIFE+Crops for better soil - Lessons learned in 4 years of project execution


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General objective of the project is to offer a feasible solution -without irrigation- for land degradation phenomena caused by a combination of erosive farming practices and land abandonment in areas with semi-arid climatic conditions and vulnerable dry soil types.

More specifically, the project aims to demonstrate on a significant scale and with innovative measurement technologies that application of particular organic farming techniques can improve soil fertility by 20% and meanwhile increase yields with the same percentage. It does so by focalising optimal combinations of methodologies targeted to the specific soils and climatic conditions concerned, amongst which especially crop rotation, compost fertilization and re-introduction of traditional crops. The demonstration should be able to put an end to the actual existing conviction that organic farming is not an economically profitable activity unless sustained by state subsidy-programmes co-financed by the European Union, in support of its wider introduction and abolishment of these subsidies in the long run.

By demonstrating optimal organic farming methods based on traditional crops, the project “Crops for better soil” is expected to achieve the following four results:
• Soil fertility: 20% improvement of organic matter available in the top-soil (30 cm) of the test lots. Currently in Spain the organic matter in dry lands ranges from 0,0 to 0,5%. Furthermore, a series of other indicators of soil quality (NPK, water retention capacity, etc.) should show steady improvements over the years.

• Yields: 20% improvement of the yield production on the test lots, compared to prior levels in the region, without irrigation and the use of chemical fertilizers and insecticides.

• Re-introduction of traditional crops: re-introduction of at least 5 traditional crops. Currently, mostly popular cereals (wheat) and some varieties are planted, but niche markets are not addressed for lack of knowledge or interest. The introduction of traditional crops will first of all improve the soil quality but also enforce the development of new niches; respond to market demand for original, organic and healthy products and thus offer farmers alternatives to practice sustainable ecological agriculture. Furthermore, the focus on legumes provides for a healthy protein source, consuming much less resources than producing meat thereby improving the CO2 footprint of food production.

• Improve the quality of life in rural areas: 20% of farmers with improved perception of their economic and social situation and future outlook.

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LIFE+Crops for better soil - Lessons learned in 4 years of project execution

  1. 1. Partners: Lessons learned in 4 years of project execution LIFE10 ENV ES 471
  2. 2. Soil analysis 1. A gamma-ray detector system and a ground penetrating radar (GPR) were used for rapid in situ mapping of soil parameters (Agribox) 2. Edaphic characterization was performed for each area 3. The RhoC was used to measure the total soil bulk density. The Penetrologger was used for measuring soil rooting depth 4. According to the characteristics of the soil, a crop rotation plan was designed for each area cereal oilseed legume 1. Agribox Mapping of plots 4. Crop rotation 2. Edaphic characterization 3.Rhoc Penetrologger
  3. 3. Project areas
  4. 4. First training course (2012): Introduction to organic farming Scientific basis of organic farming Basic techniques of organic field crops Training courses for farmers Second training course (2012): Weed Control Part 1 Weed Control Part 2 Presentation by Xavier Sans - Weeds Third training course (2013): Soil exploration and fertilization management Presentation by Jean Pierre Scherer Fourth training course (2014): Crop management in dry land areas Presentation by Carlos Lacasta - Organic farming in dry land Presentation by Carlos Lacasta - Efficiency in cereal cultivation Presentation by Carlos Lacasta - The soil and the farmer Presentation by Ramon Meco - Organic farming in dry land The training courses have been organized by VIDASANA and have helped farmers to solve doubts about the agronomic management during the process of conversion from conventional to organic farming.
  5. 5. Crop and harvest management Data collection has been performed during each campaign and for each region Navarra Guadalajara Guadalajara Zamora AragónZamora
  6. 6. 1. Objective: To increase soil organic matter with 20% The organic matter of the plots indicates quite the degree of soil fertility. Several experts as Jean Pierre Scherer, Juan Pablo del Monte and Pedro Alonso explained that the important factor is the active organic matter, i.e. humus, which is obtained by increasing soil biology. In the last year, it will be essential to analyze soil respiration and root and mycorrhiza activity. 2. Objective: To increase farmers' income by 20% a) Much will depend on the weather (i.e. rainfall is a constraint, there is a great difference between crop volumes in 2011 and in 2012) b) Work with the minimum investment cost c) Training courses and advice from expert agronomists have helped optimize crop management. This translates in higher production and yield / ha in campaigns 2012- 2013 and 2013-2014 In addition: The Consortium have selected species and varieties with higher market demand Weeds have been better managed through harrowing  better results are observed in cereal crops than in pea crops Land management has been established according to soil characteristics. Depending on the case, tillage is performed or it is not  in some cases, no-tillage in the long term does not function optimally, mainly because there is soil compaction Lessons learned (1)
  7. 7. 3. Objective: To introduce at least 5 new crop varieties a) There is demand in the market for "specialties". But  Almost no availability of seeds (ecological)  Often there is lack knowledge on how to work these crops b) Several crops have been introduced, both traditional or new use for the area (safflower, camelina, canola, lentils, chickpeas, varieties of durum wheat and wheat) 4. Objective: Increase awareness of the economic viability of farmers (20%) a) Interviews were conducted at the beginning of the project and will be repeated at the end b) The reaction of participants has been very positive so far  They use knowledge of trainers and agronomists  They like the exchange of views with farmers from other regions  Results of soil analyses were very illustrative of its condition  They are encouraged to experiment with crop rotation, including new crops  Overall, the preliminary results (harvest) have been positive Lessons learned (2)
  8. 8. Contribution to the objectives of the CAP and the GREENING: The reform of the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is a timely opportunity to provide a coherent set of interventions that address these challenges. The European Commission has proposed a number of 'greening measures', including obligatory crop rotation, grassland maintenance, and more specific agri- environment measures, aimed at climate change mitigation and biodiversity conservation. Whilst these proposals are a step in the right direction, they do not sufficiently address the resource efficiency of European agriculture in terms of productivity, water use, carbon capture, external inputs like nutrients and pesticides and ecosystem resilience (EEA Greening the CAP, 2012). The CAP concerning the period 2014–2020, recognises organic farmers as 'green by definition' as they are automatically entitled to the green payment. It enables specific agri-environment measures aimed at climate change mitigation and biodiversity conservation as well as organic farming practices to qualify for financial support from the rural development (EEA SOER, 2015). Therefore, the lessons learned during this project are a good opportunity to offer a coherent set of interventions that address these challenges, as they are: to encourage the cultivation of traditional species, incorporate the use of cover crops, mediate soil compaction and controlling weeds. All these, in order to promote the resilience of dryland areas seeking a balance in the efficient use of resources and promote rural development with low carbon footprint. Lessons learned (3)
  9. 9. THREATS  Implementation of EU legislation is different in each region (i.e. compost is prohibited in Castilla La Mancha)  Bureaucracy of certifying entities; no stimulus to change  Climate change (excess or shortage of water, global warming)  Soil recovery is a very slow process of several years  Farmers want to see immediate results and are not always willing to invest in long-term improvements STRENGTHS  Applies techniques to control weeds more effectively  Applies techniques to increase soil fertility  Preserves food quality, it is residue free and with special attention to infant feeding  Lower energy costs and greater economic, ecological and social profit  Inherited knowledge of traditional farming techniques among older farmers (retired ) on soil management, crop rotation and natural fertilization WEAKNESSES  Variable production yields  Variable product quality (protein, specific weight, pests)  Dependence on subsidies  Weed control remains complicated  Little demand and supply in the Spanish market (continuous imbalance; often ends up selling conventional)  Inadequate equipment and in some cases unprofessional  It starts with poor soil and with compaction problems, lack of humus and biological activity  Natural fertilizers are scarce and expensive; supply is not professional  The use of organic fertilizers is a challenge because there are always three months of drought OPPORTUNITIES  Wide availability of dry land (which, without immediate action, are expected to be abandoned)  Demand for organic products in Europe is rising  Increased interest especially in forage protein crops  Political support from Brussels for a more sustainable agriculture  Young farmers understand better the economic, environmental and social challenges  Agroforestry with perennial crops is considered as an interesting alternative  Contribute to the objectives of the CAP and GREENING 2020  Contribute to the formulation of agricultural and environmental solutions under CAP and GREENING policies Preliminary observations of the organic agriculture model in marginal dry land areas