Agricultural soils provide many more services to society than just primary production. These services include climate regulation, water regulation, nutrient cycling and the provision of habitats for biodiversity. The delivery of services, including primary production, finds itself under pressure and this loss needs visibility to change things for the better. Due to links between services, soil functioning and soil properties, the latter have become a popular proxy for the services. However, the value as an indicator of services can be questioned, because of the notorious variability of soil properties in time and space, and the dependency of the delivery of services on other factors such as management and climate. From that perspective, it can be much more efficient and effective to measure the services themselves or to monitor and promote the practices with a proven effect on the services. Of course, this requires objective information about impacts to be expected from these practices, and full access to such information.
Practices can have conflicting outcomes on services: what is good for primary production is not necessarily good for other services, and such trade-offs are found among all the services. Where trade-offs are evident and farmers are also expected to deliver services other than primary production, they deserve a fair remuneration from society.
Traditional farming systems are not per se better or worse at delivering services than innovative systems. An open attitude is therefore needed towards new technologies and the way practices are evaluated and appreciated. Fields, farms and regions differ in their ability to deliver services depending on local conditions. Policies and regulations should acknowledge that, and should result in mosaics rather than ‘one size fits all’ approaches across Europe.
Hein ten Berge1, Jaap J. Schröder1, Jørgen E. Olesen2 and Juan-Vicente Giraldez Cervera3
1. Wageningen Research, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
2. Aarhus University, Tjele, Denmark.
3. University of Córdoba, Córdoba, Spain.
64 pages, 2 figures, 4 tables, 245 references