Policy makers know that agricultural soils have more functions than the production of crops. Examples of these other functions are the recycling of nutrients, regulation of the hydrological cycle and the quality of outgoing water, regulation of the emissions and sequestration of greenhouse gases, and providing habitats for flora and fauna. The capacity of soils to provide these attendant services is often referred to as ‘soil quality’, which suggests that the specifications needed to perform one given function should fully coincide with those needed for any other function.
However, European farmers give little attention to the multifunctionality of their soils and prioritise what is best for the next few harvests. This paper will unravel the underlying causes of this focus on productivity. We conclude that there is an urgent need to acknowledge that not only synergies, but also trade-off’s, exist between these functions. Therefore, full exploitation of the multifunctional dimension of soils requires a fair remuneration by consumers or taxpayers when production costs increase or yields are reduced. In addition, the evidence base for the long term impact of threats to the functioning of soils needs corroboration, if only to justify when and where regulations are needed.