FIELD Pilots – SOIL HEALTH

Soil Health

Soil health (meant as the holistic concept of chemical, physical and biological soil fertility) determines the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans.

soil1Farming systems designed and managed according to ecological principles aim to minimize the use of external inputs in agriculture. Following an agroecological approach, soil health is a fundamental prerequisite for farming. In this context, crop fertilization management is based on nutrient cycling fostered by soil organic matter (SOM) content and quality rather than on the application of fertilizers as external inputs.

We are co-designing a soil health monitoring tool with farmers from Greece and Italy. Our web-app will integrate modelling of experimental data together with participatory assessments by the farmers to forecast the effect of fertilization on soil health and therefore on the sustainability of the production.

This piloting activity has the aim to address the following farmers’ needs:

  • to be supported in forecasting the effect of fertilization practices on soil health;
  • to share knowledge and practices on soil health self assessment methodologies (e.g. spade test);
  • to exchange information on long term impact of farm management practices on soil health;
  • to compare model results with farmers field experience.

The applications will be composed by four main components:

(i) Farm data, given by the users through a web interface: location, soil data analysis, crop rotation and agronomic practices;

(ii) Soil health self-assessment,  through an app for doing and registering results of spade test (a step-by-step evaluation of the main soil features such as structure, layers, biodiversity, on a 30 to 45 cm deep sample of soil);soil2

(iii) Soil model, based on the Rothamsted carbon model (Coleman & Jenkinson,1996), to estimate SOM dynamics in the soil;

(iv) Open data. Input of soil and weather data from available open data sources

In the application, the spade test function will guide the user through an easy touch-enabled interface to define the soil features for different layers. At the end, summary results highlighting the positive and negative features are given and shared, eventually adding comments and a short description of farm practices. The SOM modelling function allows the user to select predefined crops and farming practices, or edit them with specific data. A preliminary list of scenarios is available in the CAPSELLA database. After choosing the scenario, RothC simulation of the SOM dynamics in the following years is run, showing the trends of SOM content in the soil. A map interface will allow the users to search across farms, practices, spade tests and soil simulations.

We are currently at the tool development phase, testing each part of the tool with the target communities in Greece and Italy. The first version of the app has been released in June 2017. By October 2017 the application will be available online. For further information, you can contact Mariateresa Lazzaro (m.lazzaro@santannapisa.it).

Download here the soil health pilot postcard.