LIFE Project Cover Photo

Profitable organic farming techniques based on traditional crops: contrasting soil degradation in the Mediterranean

Reference: LIFE10 ENV/ES/000471 | Acronym: Crops for better soil

PROJECT DESCRIPTION

BACKGROUND

Farmland occupies around 50% of Europe?s land area and farming activities have shaped a rich variety of landscapes and habitats. It plays a vital role in maintaining natural resources and cultural landscapes and is crucial for many human activities. However, inappropriate agricultural practices also cause adverse environmental effects, including degradation and pollution of soil, water shortages and pollution, air pollution, fragmentation of habitats and loss of biodiversity.

In Spain, agricultural yields have been falling steadily, unless propped up by irrigation or the use of fertilisers and pesticides. It is only because of EU farm subsidies that agriculture persists in less prosperous areas. Every year, large tracts of land fall into disuse, as erosion and drier soils mean farming is no longer viable. Currently in Spain, the organic matter content of dry lands ranges from 0.0 to 0.5%. Organic agriculture has long been recognised to benefit soils, but it continues to be scarcely applied in these poor-soil areas. This is mainly attributed to insufficient knowledge about optimal application techniques and the perception of low economic benefits unless supported by subsidies.


OBJECTIVES

The Crops for better soil project aimed to show that the application of organic farming techniques can make cultivation of semi-arid land economically viable, by demonstrating an alternative to current erosive farming practices and land abandonment in areas with vulnerable dry soil types. The project examined optimal combinations of methodologies (crop rotation; fertilisation with compost; and re-introduction of traditional crops) to achieve the best soil and crop quality results for specific soil and climate conditions. It planned to sow a variety of crops - including the re-introduction of at least five traditional crops - in a range of soil types with different characteristics (e.g. acidity, erosion, stones, organic matter, and humidity). The project aimed to apply weather stations and innovative sensor technologies to monitor, analyse and manage the different variables of study sites, and to compare them with control areas. Farmers collaborating with the project received tailored training to enable their effective participation.


RESULTS

The Crops for better soil project demonstrated that the key to long-term agricultural sustainability in rain-fed areas is the implementation of appropriate soil management techniques, such as: 3-year cycle crop rotations (or longer), mixed crops (legumes-cereals), mechanical methods for weed control, vertical tillage systems to prepare the land and avoid compaction, and the re-introduction of traditional crops that adapt well to semi-arid Mediterranean areas.

The project therefore showed that organic farming methods can provide mid- and long-term solutions for soil recovery, while also increasing the yield performance due to the decrease in production costs (especially consumables) to generate higher profits for farmers.

A range of environmental benefits are realised using the project?s approach. There is a significant improvement in soil quality, due to higher organic content and water-retention capacity, increased soil respiration, and fewer weeds. This facilitates improvements in crop yields. The project results demonstrate that a coherent set of interventions, such as introducing traditional crops, incorporating the use of protean crops instead of fallow, decompaction interventions and controlling weed flora, can improve resource efficiency and increase yield per hectares.

The project team established potential revenues for organic agriculture on rain-fed lands, to demonstrate its economic viability. Switching to sustainable agriculture practices was promoted, as a means of complying with Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) norms and greening policies. The project team measured the CO2 footprint of the experimental plots, showing that the decreased inputs in several types of operations per hectare in organic farming is more sustainable than those produced in a conventional manner (50% reduction average).

The project demonstrations show that organic farming can be an economically profitable activity, even without being sustained by state subsidy programmes co-financed by the EU. This supports its wider introduction and the abolishment of these subsidies in the long run. The selection of a wide variety of very poor soils should provide sufficient knowledge for the broad transferability of results. The focus on economic sustainability, together with broad dissemination of results and cooperation with other LIFE projects and other agricultural initiatives, also provides opportunities for the broad replication of outcomes.

Crops for better soil contributes information and results for policy deliberation at all governmental levels. It directly contributes to the European Action Plan for Organic Food and Farming (COM(2004)415) and, more generally, to EU rural development policy, which targets investment in more sustainable agricultural practices, such as organic agriculture.

An important project innovation was the re-introduction of traditional crops. Non-standard cereals and legumes are often seen as a risk by farmers due to marketing uncertainties, and they have not previously featured in soil restoration initiatives. The project demonstrated the economic viability of traditional crops, and their beneficial effect on soil quality. The crops tested included the cereals spelt, candela wheat, oats, rye, triticale, buckwheat and Chamorro wheat; and the legumes blue lupines, field beans, chick peas, lentils and fava beans. Rotation was proposed with oil seeds like sunflower, linseed, safflower and canola. This approach also supports the conservation of local crop biodiversity.

Restoring agricultural land to profitability increases economic opportunities in rural areas, particularly regarding young people, and thus combats the abandonment of farming land. The project?s techniques could also be applied to high-value crops and on irrigated land to improve soil quality and benefit farmers economically. Farmers participating in the project provide successful examples of the transition to organic farming in rain-fed areas, which could lead to more land being transitioned to organic farming in these areas in the future.

ADMINISTRATIVE DATA


Reference: LIFE10 ENV/ES/000471
Acronym: Crops for better soil
Start Date: 15/10/2011
End Date: 14/10/2016
Total Budget: 3,556,642 €
EU Contribution: 1,729,070 €
Project Location:

CONTACT DETAILS


Coordinating Beneficiary: Transati S.L.
Legal Status: PCO
Address: Ctra de Torres de la Alameda a Hueros km 3200, 28813, Torres de Alameda, España
Contact Person: Mariano SAZ ACHUELO
Email: mariano@transati.com
Tel: +34 918 868488
Website:


LIFE Project Map

ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES ADDRESSED

THEMES

  • Agriculture - Forestry
  • Soil and landscape protection

KEYWORDS

  • soil degradation
  • environmental training
  • organic farming

TARGET EU LEGISLATION

  • COM(2006)231 - ?Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection? (22.09.2006)
  • COM(2010)672 - The CAP towards 2020: Meeting the food, natural resources and territorial challenges of the future (18.11.2010)

BENEFICIARIES

Name Type
Transati S.L. Coordinator
Transfer Latin Business Consultancy S.L., Spain Participant
Universidad Politécnica Madrid, Spain Participant
Asociación Vida Sana, Spain Participant
Medusa Explorations BV, The Netherlands Participant
Saatzucht Steinach GmbH & Co KG, Germany Participant

READ MORE

Type Resource
Project web site Project's website
Publication After-LIFE Communication Plan
Publication Layman report
Publication "Lo que debe saber un agricultor para manejar el suelo y mantener su fertilidad y salud. In: Cuarto curso de formación, 6 de noviembre 2014" (285 KB)
Publication "Biología, ecología y control de malas hierbas. In: Segundo curso de formación, 2 de octubre 2012" (2.5 MB)
Publication "Reconocimiento de suelos y gestión de la fertilización. In: Tercer curso de formación, 26 y 27 de noviembre 2013" (695 KB)
Publication Project's Final technical report
Publication "Eficiencia en el cultivo del cereal de secano: Una visión critica de la situación actual. In: Tierras-Agricultura, n°220, 2014. In: Cuarto curso de formación, 6 de noviembre 2014" (181 KB)
Publication "Control de malas hierbas: Cultivos extensivos de secano. In: Segundo curso de formación, 2 de octubre 2012" (1.51 MB)
Publication "Gestión de cultivos extensivos de secano. In: Cuarto curso de formación, 6 de noviembre 2014" (337 KB)
Publication "Microorganismos del suelo y biofertilización. In: Quinto curso de formación, 13 de noviembre 2015" (1.85 MB)
Video link "Project video" (EN - 3')
Video link Project's video (ES - 2'18)
Slides Presentation "Introducción al control ecológico de malas hierbas en cultivos herbácéis de secano. In: Segundo curso de formación, 2 de octubre 2012" (16.3 MB)
Slides Presentation "Presentación 3º Curso de Formación. In: Tercer curso de formación, 26 y 27 de noviembre 2013" (1.19 MB)
Slides Presentation "Agricultura ecologica en secano: Soluciones sostenibles en ambinetes mediterraneos. In: Cuarto curso de formación, 6 de noviembre 2014" (9.24 MB)
Slides Presentation "Agricultura ecológica en secano: Soluciones sostenibles en ambientes mediterráneos. In: Cuarto curso de formación, 6 de noviembre 2014" (6.97 MB)
Slides Presentation "Crops for better soil: Sensing soil properties. In: 1er Seminario-Jornada técnica 11 de mayo 2012" (5.86 MB)
Slides Presentation "Métodos sostenibles para el manejo de la agricultura en España. In: 1er Seminario-Jornada técnica 11 de mayo 2012" (2.3 MB)
Slides Presentation "Situación actual de los cultivos ecológicos y su papel en la recuperación de las zonas marginales. In: 1er Seminario-Jornada técnica 11 de mayo 2012" (17.9 MB)
Slides Presentation "Historia del suelo y ciencia de la rizosfera: los ojos del mundo miran a España. In: 3º Seminario: Presentaciones en la Jornada Técnica “Biofertilización, la alternativa para la gestión de la fertilidad y la salud del suelo”. 12 de noviembre 2015, Madrid" (3.22 MB)
Slides Presentation "Las micorrizas y su papel en las plantas. In: 3º Seminario: Presentaciones en la Jornada Técnica “Biofertilización, la alternativa para la gestión de la fertilidad y la salud del suelo”. 12 de noviembre 2015, Madrid" (3.37 MB)
Slides Presentation "Proyectos Life “Cultivos tradicionales” & “Operación CO₂”: Análisis DAFO de la agricultura extensiva mediterránea. In: 3º Seminario: Presentaciones en la Jornada Técnica “Biofertilización, la alternativa para la gestión de la fertilidad y la salud del suelo”. 12 de noviembre 2015, Madrid" (2.67 MB)
Slides Presentation "Presentación de resultados y proyectos actuales. In: 3º Seminario: Presentaciones en la Jornada Técnica “Biofertilización, la alternativa para la gestión de la fertilidad y la salud del suelo”. 12 de noviembre 2015, Madrid" (2.26 MB)
Slides Presentation "Pensando en la protección y la salud de la planta. In: 2º Seminario: Presentación en la Jornada Técnica "Una agricultura más sostenible a través de la salud de suelos y un manejo profesional e inteligente de las tierras", 13 de noviembre 2014, Madrid" (5.33 MB)
Slides Presentation "Cultivos extensivos ecológicos: Tecnicas básicas. In: Primer curso de formación, 22 de febrero al 12 de marzo 2012" (9.18 MB)
Slides Presentation "Crops for Better Soil: LIFE 10 ENV ES 441. In: Primer curso de formación, 22 de febrero al 12 de marzo 2012" (267 KB)
Slides Presentation "Introducción a la agricultura ecológica. In: Primer curso de formación, 22 de febrero al 12 de marzo 2012" (8.91 MB)
Slides Presentation "Bases científicas de la agricultura ecológica. In: Primer curso de formación, 22 de febrero al 12 de marzo 2012" (8.49 MB)
Slides Presentation "Millora de sòls amb tècniques d'agricultura ecològica [Catalan]" (7.21 MB)
Slides Presentation "Asesoramiento empresarial: Demanda europea de cereales y legumbres ecológicos producidos en el mediterráneo. In: Conferencia Final de Cultivos Tradicionales, 18 de mayo 2016 (Madrid, España)" (399 KB)
Slides Presentation "Producción y la comercializacíon de la producción ecológica. In: Conferencia Final de Cultivos Tradicionales, 18 de mayo 2016 (Madrid, España)" (4 MB)
Slides Presentation "It's the Biology my dear friends!. In: Conferencia Final de Cultivos Tradicionales, 18 de mayo 2016 (Madrid, España)" (4.36 MB)
Slides Presentation "Life+Climagri: Buenas prácticas agrarias agrícolas frente al cambio climático: Integración de estrategias de mitigación y adaptación. In: Conferencia Final de Cultivos Tradicionales, 18 de mayo 2016 (Madrid, España)" (6.29 MB)
Slides Presentation "Project LIFE HELPSOIL - Adapting to climate change through sustainable conservation agriculture techniques. In: Conferencia Final de Cultivos Tradicionales, 18 de mayo 2016 (Madrid, España)" (6.14 MB)
Slides Presentation "Communication during and after LIFE. In: Conferencia Final de Cultivos Tradicionales, 18 de mayo 2016 (Madrid, España)" (2.54 MB)
Slides Presentation "Transferencia tecnológica e impacto social. In: Conferencia Final de Cultivos Tradicionales, 18 de mayo 2016 (Madrid, España)" (1.13 MB)
Slides Presentation "Resultados agronómicos. In: Conferencia Final de Cultivos Tradicionales, 18 de mayo 2016 (Madrid, España)" (3.81 MB)
Slides Presentation "Sensing Soil Physical Properties. In: Conferencia Final de Cultivos Tradicionales, 18 de mayo 2016 (Madrid, España)" (7.02 MB)
Slides Presentation "Presentación del proyecto Crops for better soil. In: Conferencia Final de Cultivos Tradicionales, 18 de mayo 2016 (Madrid, España)" (856 KB)
Slides Presentation "Introducción proyecto Crops for better soil. In: Conferencia Final de Cultivos Tradicionales, 18 de mayo 2016 (Madrid, España)" (4.65 MB)
Project web site - 2 Project's Facebook page

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