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Protecting Soil Through Conservation Agriculture, in Europe; Soil and Water & ProTerra Projects

Soil and Water and ProTerra Projects

The SOil and WAter Project (SOWAP) and ProTerra projects set out to assess whether Conservation Agriculture has

“the potential to protect soil and water while enhancing crop production and encouraging biodiversity in Europe”(p9, Jones et al, Conservation Agriculture in Europe, 2006) .

SOWAP focused on arable crops and ProTerra focused on perennial crops of vines and olives. The projects report that, Conservation Agriculture can

  • reduce soil erosion by over 60%
  • reduce water run off by over 40%
  • maintain crop yields
  • cut agriculture related fuel costs by 50%
  • reduce agriculture related C02 emissions by 70% or 130,000,000 tonnes per annum
  • create cost savings of €7 billion annually for on and off-site effects of erosion
  • significantly enhance soil biodiversity and provide a better habitat for insects birds and mammals
  • reduce agrochemical and fertiliser run off by up to 80%

The benefits to the environment are thus significant. But why focus on soil and water protection?

The problem of Water Pollution

From farms, soil, nutrients, micro-organisms and pesticides can pollute water. Most pesticides found in water are there as the result of human error; i.e. point source pollution caused by pesticide users employing poor spraying practices.  Some pesticides however contaminate water through 'run-off' into surface water or leaching (through the soil) into ground water. 

Point source of suface water pollution from pesticides is defined by TOPPS as spillage of concentrate or dilute spray: *from container at any time; *while mixing; *from inversion of containers; *from sprayer washings; *during remnant disposal; *poor sprayer/nozzle maintenance causing malfunction; *poor field practice e.g. over spraying ditches, spraying when stationary/turning, collecting contaminated mud on tractor wheels

The set of techniques known as Conservation Agriculture are considered to have contributed to soil and water protection - by reducing soil erosion and by reducing 'run-off' and leaching - and are widely practiced in both North and South America and Australia (Holland, 2004). Given the successful application of Conservation Agriculture in other parts of the world, the SOWAP and ProTerra projects were established to ask:

  • Can Conservation Agriculture protect soil and water in Europe and enhance crop protection and biodiversity?
  • Are there particular limitations to the effectiveness of Conservation Agriculture or constraints upon its implementation?
  • Does Conservation Agriculture have the potential for wider adoption in Europe?

Yes, Yes and Yes are the short answers.
With Qualifications. The long answer is presented in clear accessible language in the excellent “Conservation Agriculture in Europe: An approach to sustainable crop production by protecting soil and water?”  (4,552 Kb pdf file). A free printed copy can be ordered online. This presentation to launch the booklet is also helpful.

References and Bibliography

Holland, J. M. (2004). The environmental consequences of adopting conservation tilage in Europe: reviewing the evidence. Agriculture Ecosystems & Environment, 103(1), 1-25. (261.3 Kb pdf file)

Jones, C. A., Basch, G., Bayliss, A. D., Bazzoni, D., Biggs, J., Bradbury, R. B., et al. (2006). Conservation Agriculture in Europe: An approach to sustainable crop production by protecting soil and water? Jeallott's Hill, Bracknell RG42 6EY  UK: SOWAP. (4,552 Kb pdf file).

Kertesz, A. (2004, 25-29 May). Conventional and conservation tillage from pedological and ecological aspects; the SOWAP project. Paper presented at the 4th International Congress of the European Society for Soil Conservation; "Soil conservation in changing Europe", Budapest, Hungary. (46 Kb pdf file)