Case Study Site 1: De Peel, The Netherlands

Responsible partner: 10 - DLO

1. Geographical description
The study site ‘de Peel’ is located in the southeast part of The Netherlands with the region being constrained by the river Meuse in the north and east (Figure 1). It covers an area of flatland of approx. 2500 km2 with elevations ranging from 10 meters in the northeast bordering the river Meuse, to a maximum of 50 meters a.s.l. in the southwest. The centre of the circular shaped study site area with a radius of approximately 25 km has coordinates 51° 32’19 N, 5° 51’05 E. The region has a temperate sea climate with a mean annual temperature of 10.5°C and mean annual precipitation of 775 mm.


Figure 1. Location of Study area ‘ de Peel’.

2. Main farming systems and typical agricultural management activities in the study area
The area has a very mixed but intensive agricultural land use. Dominant land use is a mix of arable and vegetable production and intensive grassland. The main farming systems are intensive dairy production, intensive vegetable production and intensive arable production. The region also has many farms for intensive pig production which are mainly fed with imported concentrates. Intensive dairy and pig production are causing a high input of manure and slurry on the land. The high manure and slurry input, together with the intensive production of grassland, crops for roughage, arable and vegetable crops are causing a high nutrient input into the environment. Sandy soils are very susceptible to nitrate and phosphorus leaching into groundwater. Legislation from the EU-nitrate directive is increasingly limiting nitrogen input. Therefore, there is a high need amongst farmers to improve their Nitrogen Use Efficiency (NUE). Improvement of soil quality is considered a possibility to improve the NUE.

The intensive land use and the narrow rotations are also causing considerable problems with soil pathogens like pathogenic nematodes. Together with the ban on metam natrium and other soil disinfectants there is high demand for new management options to improve soil health. Intensive land use, the high degree of mechanisation and often crops that are harvested late in autumn (like silage maize) are placing additional demands on the soil thereby directly impacting upon soil structure and subsoil compaction.

3. Characteristic soils and soil quality monitoring practice
The main soil type is sand to sandy loam with an organic matter content ranging 3 to 10%. Soil quality monitoring in practice involves regular (once in about 4 years) monitoring of soil nutrient status for N, P, K and micronutrients, pH and soil organic matter. Depending on the crop type and identified soil health problems, there is regular monitoring for specific pathogenic nematodes and other soil borne pathogens. Assessment of cation exchange capacity (CEC) and soil biological indicators, are only occasionally used but are rapidly gaining interest.

4. Ongoing research and innovation actions on soil improvement and monitoring
The study area has been intensively studied on various aspects of soil quality and related ecosystem services. At a central location in the area is the DLO experimental farm at Vredepeel. This experimental farm represents the centre for research, demonstration and communication for agriculture in the region. The experimental farm has several mid to long-term experiments focusing on soil quality. Management options like organic matter management, soil tillage and soil health treatments are scientifically tested, either separately and or in combination. Various research and demonstration projects with farmer networks and/or pilot farms on various aspects of soil quality have been or are running in the study area. The networks have been focusing on various soil aspects including nitrate leaching, phosphorus accumulation, soil pathogens and organic matter management. One network of farmers in the study area has been focusing specifically on the monitoring, storage and exchange of GPS labeled information on soil quality indicators.

5. Stakeholders to be included in the research
Various stakeholders are involved in soil quality and ecosystem services in the study area:

  • Individual farmers a the main land users
  • Farmers networks who have been focusing on specific aspect of soil quality
  • Extension service, and advisors
  • Regional Farmers Union (ZLTO)
  • Waterboards because of the nitrate and pesticide pollution of ground and surface water
  • Suppliers of nutrients, pesticides, seeds and soil improvers


Case Study Site 2: Argentré du Plessis, Brittany, France

Responsible partner: 26 - GB

1. Geographical description
Argentré du Plessis is located in the Department Ille et Vilaine in the Eastern part of Brittany (Figure 2). The climate is oceanic, with average yearly rainfall of 700-800 mm, and with some summer droughts during recent years. The average temperature is about 15 °C, with few very warm or very cold days. In the most Western part of Brittany, yearly rainfall is above 1100 mm.

CS02Figure 2. Case Study Site location within Ille et Vilaine (Department 35 in the map of France).

2. Main farming systems and typical agricultural management activities in the study area
Brittany is very agricultural and dynamic. Agribusiness is the main source of employment in the region. The main products are cow milk, especially in the department Ille et Vilaine, pork, especially on the Armor coast, and poultry around Morbihan. Beef is also well represented. Vegetables are mainly grown along the coast, and in the central part of Brittany. All sectors are well organised and nowadays assistance is provided to develop short selling chains. The Breton farming is well known for its technical performance and for it level of intensification. The canton of Argentré du Plessis has the strongest concentration of animals within Ille et Vilaine. In Brittany, there is a large shortage of cereals and proteins compared to the needs of the animal sector. This imbalance has created problems of surplus organic fertilizer given the limited available areas where they can be applied. Extensive cropping of maize and cereals have created problems in relation to the use of plant health products. The soils in Brittany are subjected to high erosion rates, as evidenced by the concentration of phosphorus in water reservoirs. Brittany is also a popular tourist area. The Gaec de la Branchette is under biologic agriculture since 1998, following several years of intensive cultivation (milk, bulls, pigs). The farm is located in the drainage basin of the Haute Vilaine. The main product is cow milk on the basis of feed based on herbs. The pasture is composed of associations of grasses and legumes, which are grazed for 10-11 months per year. Pastures are on average kept for 7-9 years. Following one or two stubble treatments with a toothed Canadian type cultivator, plowing to a depth of 15-20 cm deep is made to incorporate crop residues and to avoid that less fertile soil comes to the surface.
Maize is planted in May and two to three mechanical weedings are done with harrow, rotary hoe and hoe. The maize harvest takes place in early October to free the land just in time for the sowing of cereals with or without protein crop. The rotation ends with the establishment of grassland after the harvest of cereals in July-August. On the plots that are more distant from farms, grasslands are kept for shorter periods (3-4 years). Livestock is fed from the farm and very little food is brought in from outside (wheat bran). Winter feeding is balanced with maize and grass harvested before and stored as dried fodder (alfalfa, red clover). The advantage of the system is its simplicity for feed, and the outstanding work organization allows everyone to take several weeks per year off.

3. Characteristic soils and soil quality monitoring practice
The majority of the soils in the region are deep silty clay loams. In the north-east corner of the map, the Pertre forest dominates the surroundings with an elevation of 131 m. This forest is located on leucogranites. Anticlinals and synclinals of Brioverian age are also present on the study farm. The Paleozoic and Brioverian rocks are structured in straight folds that were opened during NS shortening of the Hercynian orogeny, associated with a generalized shear of central Brittany between two adjacent steps (North and South Armorican faults). A final event is responsible for the reactivation of the discordance and for the overlap on the southern flank of the Pertre granites. Magmatism is represented by the Pertre Massif, which is leucogranitic with concentric structure, and which was intrusive in the Brioverian rocks, causing metamorphism of these. This massif dates to the Upper Devonian. Its formation was accompanied or followed by acid and basic subvolcanic episodes arranged in vein fields (field Visseiche, dome Louvigné de Bais) intersecting the Brioverian of the region as well as the Pertre Massif. Metamorphism that has in places been detected in Brioverian rocks indicates that other non-outcropping plutonic masses exist at relatively shallow depths. Only the Seiche and its main tributary, the Quincampoix developed alluvial systems from which currently there remain only a few scattered fragments and terraces corresponding to incision of rivers during the Pleistocene. In the Atlantic period the colluvial slopes were formed as well as the valley bottoms and peat.
Farming practices and intensive cultivation of crops have led to a deterioration of soil quality especially with the accumulation of certain minerals such as phosphorus, nitrate leakage and reduction of structural stability due to the absence of grasslands in many rotations (maize / grain). Rivers in the region have quality problems either because of nitrate or because of pesticides. Governments and Europe encourage changes in practices by funding research activities or development aimed at improving their environmental impact. Many actions are conducted on watersheds such as that of the Haute Vilaine which directly concerns the Gaec de la Branchette. They participate in the transfer of technical alternatives to conventional farmers. The Grenelle Environment and the Bio Ambition Plan aim to accelerate the development of organic agriculture. In 2012, 1800 farmers in Brittany produced organically; this is 5% of all producers. A quarter of the producers is located in Ille et Vilaine, which means 1 organic farmer for every two traditional farmers in the department.

4. Ongoing research and innovation actions on soil improvement and monitoring
Many activities have been undertaken to slow down the soil degradation. Brittany and the Department Ille et Vilaine are included in a number of these studies.

  • Work on simplified cultivation techniques (Chambers of Agriculture of Brittany - Association BASE)
  • Improved performance tools for spreading organic fertilizers, pesticides, (Experimental Station Cormiers, Chamber of Agriculture Britain)
  • Study on soil compaction (Experimental Station Cormiers, Chamber of Agriculture Britain)
  • National Survey MRQS on measuring soil quality for 28 years (108 measurement points in Brittany, including in Ille de Vilaine one in an organic farm very close to the study site) Pilot: Info Sol INRA Orléans (45)
  • Repository soils Brittany Agrocampus Rennes (35)
  • Actions in the Haute Vilaine Watershed: Water Board of Vilaine Amont à Vitré(35)

Monitoring of phosphorus, nitrates, pesticides

Developed tools within Agrotransfert (INRA and Chambers of Agriculture)

  • Tool-Territeau to visualise water flow. Regional Chamber of Agriculture of Brittany
  • EDEN-Tool to assess the flow of pollutants to various environmental compartments. Agricultural Brittany Regional Chamber System based on the analysis of life cycles and tested on the farm de la Branchette
  • Monitoring a network-cultures in organic farming in Britain: Regional Chamber of Agriculture Bio Britain Britain and Initiatives
  • European Green Dairy program on the impact of agricultural practices on the environment (10 farms involved in Brittany): Chambers of Agriculture of Brittany - Livestock Institute

5. Stakeholders to be included in the research

  • The farmers
  • The support structures and services (Chambers of Agriculture)
  • The citizens
  • The Local elected officials (General and Regional Council, mayors)
  • Agricultural colleges
  • Agrocampus Rennes
  • INRA (National Institute for Agricultural Research)

Suppliers of nutrients, pesticides, seeds and soil improvers



Case Study Site 3: Cértima, North-Central Portugal

Responsible partner: 15 - ESAC

1. Geographical description
The Cértima River, located in north-central Portugal (Figure 3), is a sub-tributary of the Vouga River, a watercourse that drains into the Atlantic Ocean via the Ria de Aveiro coastal lagoon. The Cértima River has a total length of 43 km, from its headwaters on the west flank of the Buçaco mountain range to its outlet at Requeixo. It drains an area of about 540 km2 that ranges from 4 to 563 m in elevation. In its lower section, the river valley opens broadly to form one of the largest natural freshwater lakes of the Iberian Peninsula (approximately 5.3 km2) - the Pateira de Fermentelos Lake - which is considered a sensitive wetland and is classified as a RAMSAR site.

2. Main farming systems and typical agricultural management activities in the study area
The land cover in the Cértima River Basin consists of a mixture of agricultural lands (44%), forest plantations (48%) and built-up areas (7%) (CLC, 2006; INE-EA, 2011). While forest plantations are dominated by pure and mixed stands of Pinus pinaster and Eucalyptus globulus, the agricultural lands are predominantly permanent crop lands and, in particular, vineyards (27%). The arable lands make up a heterogeneous and complex pattern of annual croplands where mainly potato, corn, oat are cultivated, together with annual and permanent pastures. Animal rearing in the Cértima River Basin is dominated by chicken farms (95%), rabbit (2.2%), pig (1.5%), and cow (0.5%) farms.

CS03Figure 3. Geographical setting of the Cértima River Basin, north-central Portugal.

Land use practices continue to be highly traditional, involving frequent soil mobilization, limited crop rotation, and excessive use of fertilizers and phyto-pharmaceuticals (INE-EA, 2011). In recent years, however, several of the wine producers that pertain to the Bairrada winegrowing region are increasingly adopting protective and integrated agricultural practices; first and foremost to improve and promote the quality of their products. These integrated agricultural practices comprise, in essence, a substantial reduction in the frequency of soil mobilization operations, including reduced soil erosion risk, sustainable use of fertilizers for ensuring normal plant development, and minimized application of pesticides and herbicides for promoting biodiversity and limiting pollution of soils in downstream aquatic and flood zone habitats (DGPC, 2005).

3. Characteristic soils and soil quality monitoring practice
The soils in the Cértima River Basin are dominated by Humic Cambisols in its eastern, upland areas and by Podzols in western parts (Cardoso et al., 1971, using the FAO-2006 classification). These Humic Cambisols are developed from Ordovician schists, whereas the Podzols are formed on modern-age alluvial sands and clays. There is no regular monitoring program for soil quality in place in the Cértima River Basin, in spite of the Portuguese Environmental Agency being officially responsible for evaluating soil fertility and contamination.

4. Ongoing research and innovation actions on soil improvement and monitoring
Following earlier work focusing on surface water quality and the WFD (Cerquieira et al., 2005; Ferreira et al., 2009; Serpa et al., 2014), the nationally-funded VITAQUA project has been studying soil contamination by agri-chemicals including soil erosion and associated transport of agri-chemicals in the vineyards of the Cértima River Basin. To this end, the “São Lourenço” experimental research basin was instrumented with a hydrometric station (including automatic sampler), various rainfall gauges and various runoff plots, and is being monitored on a 1 to 2-weekly basis since 2011.

More recently, an innovative field experiment with biochar was started in a vineyeard within the research station of the Vitivinicola da Bairrada (EVB), Anadia. The motivation for this experiment was two-fold, i.e. i) vineyards of the Bairrada region are increasingly experiencing water stress in the dry growing season, and ii), biochar has been found to improve soil infiltration and water holding capacity, thereby not only increasing plant-available water but also reducing soil erosion risk. The experiment’s objectives are therefore to assess the effects of biochar on soil hydrology, soil quality and crop production. Since March 2013, data is being recorded on soil moisture content, soil water potential, soil temperature, and soil electric conductivity. In addition, crop physiological variables such as chlorophyll fluorescence, stomatal conductance, leaf pigment content and hydric stress have been monitored on three occasions. Also, grape yield and aboveground vine biomass data, have been collected by personnel of the EVB (testimony of the interest of both the EVB and the DRAP-C). Finally, a time series of soil samples is being analysed for eco-toxicological effects of applied biochar, in terms avoidance/survival of earthworms, isopods, and springtails.

5. Stakeholders to be included in the research
The main stakeholders for the Cértima study site will be the Portuguese Environmental Agency (APA - Agência Portuguesa do Ambiente), Regional Office of Agriculture and Fisheries (DRAPC - Direcção Regional da Agricultura e Pescas do Centro), Estação Vitivinícola da Bairrada (EVB) and Municipalities of Mealhada (CMM), Anadia (CMA) e Oliveira do Bairro (CMOB).

6. References
Cardoso JC, Bessa MT, Marado MB. 1971. Carta dos solos de Portugal (1:1,000,000). Serviço de Reconhecimento e de Ordenamento Agrário, Secretaria de Estado da Agricultura: Lisboa.
Cerqueira MA, Vieira FN, Ferreira RV, Silva JF. 2005. The water quality of the Cértima river basin (Central Portugal). Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 111: 297–306.
CLC, Corine Land Cover. 2006. Carta de uso e ocupação do solo de Portugal Continental. Instituto Geográfico Português, Lisboa.
Direcção Geral de Proteção de Culturas. 2005. Produção integrada da cultura da vinha, Lisboa.
Ferreira RSV, Cerqueira MA, Condesso de Melo MT, de Figueiredo DR, Keizer JJ. 2010. Spatial patterns of water quality in the Cértima River basin, central Portugal. Journal of Environmental Monitoring 12: 189-199.
INE-EA. 2011. Estatísticas Agrícolas 2010. Instituto Nacional de Estatística, Lisboa.
Serpa D, Keizer JJ, Cassidy J, Cuco A, Silva V, Gonçalves F, Cerqueira M, Abrantes N. 2014. Assessment of river water quality using an integrated physicochemical, biological and ecotoxicological approach. Environmental Science: Processes and Impacts 16: 1434-1444.

Case Study Site 4: SE Spain

Responsible partner: 16 - UMH

1. Geographical descriptionThe area of the study is located in the south-eastern of the Spain, enclosing study sites in Alicante, Valencia and Murcia provinces (Figure 1). The climate is typically Mediterranean, with 3-5 months of summer drought, usually from June to September with a mean annual precipitation ranging from 200-500 mm and a mean annual temperature of 16ºC. The area has an important agricultural activity, with the main crops being citrus in the lowest areas (under irrigation), and olive, almonds, vegetables, fruits and vineyards elsewhere (usually rainfed). Cereals are also grown. There has been an expansion of citrus crops in the last few years, with the transformation of dry crops and forest area into irrigated agricultural land.

Figure 4. SE Spain study site location.

2. Main farming systems and typical agricultural management activities in the study area.
The main crops are citrus plantations, rainfed vegetables, olive, vineyards, fruits and cereals. Rainfed areas are triggering high erosion rates, and also the new orange plantations increase soil losses. It is common practice to use wastewater and water rich in salt due to scarcity of water in this area, and in some agricultural areas this has a high impact on the soil with important loss of structure. Traditionally the main system of farming is based on the use of inorganic fertilizers and intensive tillage. As a consequence, it is has been noticed that the aquifer of the area is contaminated with specific pollutants. In recent years, an organic farming system with soil cover provided by leguminous species and pruning remains has been introduced. The use of adventitious plants and manure from sheep and goats are also being introduced in vineyards.

3. Characteristic soils and soil quality monitoring practice. Lithologies and soils are diverse, but soils are mainly developed under calcareous materials (limestone, marls), and on quaternary sediments. In the WRB (2010) classification they are mainly Regosols, Cambisols, Calcisols and Luvisols. Agricultural land management is one of most significant anthropogenic activities in the south of Spain that greatly alters soil characteristics, including physical, chemical, and biological properties. This fact is particularly relevant in Mediterranean environments, where unsuitable land management practices together with climatic constraints (scarce and irregular rainfall and frequent drought periods) can contribute to increased rates of erosion and other degradation processes on agricultural lands. These conditions can lead to a loss in soil fertility and a reduction in the abundance and diversity of soil microorganisms. Agricultural management influences soil microorganisms and soil microbial processes by changing the quantity and quality of plant residues entering the soil and their spatial distribution, through changes in nutrients and inputs. The excessive use of pesticides can drastically modify the function and structure. The quality of soils is low as a consequence of persistent agricultural practices including: intensive tillage, irrigation on slopes, which encourages water-based erosion, use of saline waters, and excessive use of fertilizers. Furthermore, these agricultural soils are subjected to semi-arid conditions with long dry periods; in general, they have low organic content and poor soil structure.

4. Ongoing research and innovation actions on soil improvement and monitoring

  • Research the evaluation of soil management practices in agricultural areas specially focuses in soil microbial activity (PLFA’s content, Microbial Biomass Carbon, Basal Soil Respiration rate, DNA isolation, enzymatic activities) (GEA-UMH in collaboration CEBAS-CSIC)
  • Monitoring soil quality under different agricultural management (biological, physical or chemical indicators) (GEA-UMH).
  • Promoting the increase of the use of organic farming system (GEA-UMH In collaboration with Consellería of Agricultura and Farmers association).
  • Implement programs of education and training courses to farmers.

5. Stakeholders to be included in the research

  • Agricultural advisors and consultants
  • Civilians
  • Consumers - distant, local
  • Educators - need to identify what kind/level
  • Land users - farmers and farmers organizations
  • Industry - as sources of supply
  • Landowners - agricultural land and non-agricultural land
  • Policy makers at EU, national, and local level

6. References
García-Orenes F, Cerdá A, Mataix-Solera J, Guerrero C, Bodí MB. 2009. Effects of agricultural management on surface soil properties and soil-water losses in eastern Spain. Soil Till. Res. 106: 117-123.
García-Orenes F, Guerrero C, Roldán A, Mataix-Solera J, Cerdá A, Campoy M, Zornoza R, Bárcenas G, Caravaca F. 2010. Soil microbial biomass and activity under different agricultural management systems in a semiarid Mediterranean agroecosystem. Soil Till. Res. 109: 110-115.
García-Orenes F, Roldán A, Mataix-Solera J, Cerdà A, Campoy M. 2012. Soil structural stability and erosion rates influenced by agricultural management practices in a semiarid Mediterranean agroecosystem. Soil Use Manag. 28: 571-579.
García-Orenes F, Morugán-Coronado A, Zornoza R, Scow K. 2013. Changes in Soil Microbial Community Structure Influenced by Agricultural Management Practices in a Mediterranean Agro-Ecosystem. PLoS ONE 8:e80522.
Morugán-Coronado A, Arcenegui V, García-Orenes F, Mataix-Solera J, Mataix-Beneyto J. 2013. Application of soil quality indices to assess the status of agricultural soils irrigated with treated wastewaters. Solid Earth 4: 119 -127.

Case Study Site 5: Crete, Greece

Responsible partner: 17 - AUA

1. Geographical description
The study site of Crete is bordered to the north by the Sea of Crete and to the south by the Libyan Sea (Figure 6) and covers an area of 8336 km2. Cultivated land covers 42.0% of the island, while dry land is used mainly as pasture as the next most important land use covering 39.3% of the area. The island is characterized by sloping land with slopes >12% in 79.5% of the area, while only 6.9% is comprised of lowlands with slope <6%. The coordinates of the study site (coordination system: UTM-WGS – Zone 33 North) are: left: 452134.31250, right: 713874.3750, top: 3949935.0000, and bottom: 3864285.0000.


Figure 6. Location of Crete study site.

2. Main farming systems and typical agricultural management activities in the study area
Climatic and soil characteristics accompanied by EU policies on subsidizing crops in the last two decades, have greatly favoured the extensive expansion of olive and vine plantations in the area which provides farmers with higher incomes. Orange plantations and vegetables grown in greenhouses have been mainly expanded in the lowland areas of the island. High amounts of fertilizers have been applied up until the last decade. However, farmers have realized the negative impacts on the environment and the increasing cost of crop production and thus the amount of applied fertilizers have steadily decreased. Drip irrigation has been expanded in the cropland areas to ensure increasing crop production. However, the over-exploitation of the aquifers has resulted in deterioration of water quality (high soluble salt content), thereby affecting soil salinization. The lack of good quality water has stimulated the construction of small reservoirs for increasing water availability for irrigation.

The intensification of agriculture resulted in accelerated rates of soil erosion in the hilly areas of the island. Furthermore, water pollution of the aquifers has become an important issue due to over-fertilization of the land and overuse of plant protection chemical products. Land desertification due to salinization in the lowlands and due to soil erosion in the sloping areas has become an important issue. Organic farming and integrated land management practices have been established in some areas for the protection of soil quality and ecosystem functions.

3. Characteristic soils and soil quality monitoring practice
The soils of Crete reveal various stages of soil development. Cambisols are widely present on the island covering 43% of the total area. Leptosols are located mainly in mountainous areas covering 50.9%. Fluvisols and Luvisols are mainly located in the river floodplain areas and cover a small percentage. Soils have been formed in a variety of parent materials such as limestone, shale, marl, conglomerates, flysch, and alluvial deposits. The dominant parent material is limestone covering 48.0% of the total area, followed by marl at 19.1%. Soil texture is mainly characterized as moderately fine, and evident in 78.0% of the total area. The next important class is medium covering 13.6% of the area. Fine textured soils cover only 6.9% of the area. As Figure 7 shows, very shallow (depth 0-15 cm) and shallow soils (15-30 cm) are widely distributed throughout the island of Crete, covering 16.4% and 34.6% of the total area, respectively. Moderately shallow (30-60 cm) and moderately deep (60-100 cm) soils cover 14.1% of the area at 25.8% and 18.1%, respectively. Deep and very deep soils covers 8.4% of the island, and are characterized as the most productive soils. The high amount of rock fragment (RF) in the soils is an indicator of high degradation of the soils in the past. Soils with 40-60% RF in the soil surface covers 49% of the total area. The next important class of RF is 15-40% covering 29.3% of the total area. Concerning drainage, soils are characterized as very well or well drained (98%).


Figure 7. Spatial distribution of soil depth classes in the island of Crete (source: LEDDRA project,

The existing practices can be characterized as positive or negative in terms of soil quality monitoring. The following practices are mainly evident in Crete: (a) intensive cultivation of land accompanied by disk harrowing and application of fertilizers and pesticides (negative), (b) integrated land management in olive groves by applying measures for environmental protection (positive), (c) drilling wells and expansion of irrigation in olive groves and vineyards (positive/negative), and (d) overgrazing in pasture land (negative). Intensive cultivation which is widely evident in the area has mainly negative impacts causing problems of soil erosion, ground water pollution, and deterioration of soil physical and chemical properties (decrease in soil organic matter content, soil aggregate stability deterioration).

4. Ongoing research and innovation actions on soil improvement and monitoring
The following research or actions on soil improvement and monitoring are or were going on in the island of Crete:

  • Research on assessment of land management practices on soil erosion and land desertification (Agricultural University of Athens).
  • Integrated land management practice in olive groves by allocating extra subsidies.
  • Project on development of agricultural soil database and assessment of land suitability for crop production and vulnerability to land degradation (Greek Ministry of Rural Development and Food).
  • Research on Desertification Mitigation and Remediation of Land: a global approach for local solutions – DESIRE (
  • Research on Land Ecosystem Degradation and Desertification: assessing the fit of responses- LEDDRA EU project (

5. Stakeholders to be included in the research

  • EKO DIMITRA- Institute of Olives and Sub-tropical Plants of Chania
  • Municipality of Hersonissos, Crete-Greece
  • Municipality of Aliartos, Viotia-Greece

Case Study Site 6: Ljubljana, Central Slovenia

Responsible partner: 13 - UL

1. Geographical description
The Case study in Slovenia is located on the Ljubljansko polje (Figure 8), the twenty-kilometre long and six-kilometre wide plain in the central part of Slovenia on the fertile plains of Sava river basin (300 m altitude, 1431' E, 463' N) which has a moderate continental and sub-alpine humid climate (mean air temperature 10 °C, annual precipitation 1400 mm). Most of the highly fertile arable land in Slovenia is located in plains above shallow groundwater recharge zones, which are country’s most important sources of drinking water (Zupanc et al, 2011). Mean annual water balance is positive (600 mm), and with the highly permeable soils and subsoils, there is a high risk of N leaching and ground water pollution, leading to a confrontation of drinking water resource protection and agricultural production interests.


Figure 8. Case study site location (red dot) of Ljubljansko polje in the central part of Slovenia on the alluvial plains of the river Sava and its tributaries.

2. Main farming systems and typical agricultural management activities in the study area
More than 60% of Slovenia is covered by forests, and a quarter of the land (480,000 ha) is used for agriculture (permanent meadows, pastures: 281,000 ha, arable land: 172,000 ha). The field crops are grown most intensively in the valleys, where a predominately flat surface enables the use of modern farm machinery. The gravel plains of Ljubljansko polje are traditionally agricultural, although the city of Ljubljana has been expanding substantially. According to CORINE land cover data, arable land covers 20.6%, meadows 14.7% and pastures 1.2%. Small family farms are typical for the central-west part of Slovenia. The average farm has 10 ha of farm land. Farms are mixed and produce cash crops (wheat, barley, potato, canola, maize, field vegetables), as well as fodder crops for animals, including second crops in the same year established after the harvest of winter cereals (fodder kale, oil radish, fodder rape, grass-clover mixtures). The cattle farming is quite intensive, consequently, silage maize is grown in 40% of fields in a crop rotation.

3. Characteristic soils and soil quality monitoring practice
Almost 80% of the soils of these flat areas were formed on fluvio-glacial deposits of sand and gravel, and these soils represent >50% of all tilled fields. In the west of Slovenia, in the river basin of Sava, the parent material is rich in bases, so the soil complexes are saturated with bases. The older, deeper, weathered brown soils are formed above conglomerate or breccia. This type of soil is acid, mostly covered with pine or mixed forests. Predominant soils are gleyic Fluvisols and endogleyic Fluvisols with heterogeneous soil texture, mainly loam and sandy loam, with gravel appearing either on surface or below the ploughing layer. Some alluvial soil in the study area is classified as silty clay to silty clay loam with a moderately-gleyed layer between 30 cm and 70 cm below the surface of the soil and gravel material underneath. The soil is locally artificially drained by sub-surface drains.

4. Ongoing research and innovation actions on soil improvement and monitoring
High soil quality provides s buffer zone for the retention of possible pollutants, enabling better nutrient and water use efficiency. A suitable soil management system is essential for preservation of soil and water resources.

Tillage experiment: Effect of 12 years of minimum tillage system (MT) showed positive influence on soil quality, namely increased microbial biomass and soil organic carbon in the upper soil layer, increased aggregate stability, soil water retention properties and water infiltration rate compared to conventional tillage (Kaurin et al., 2013; Žigon, 2013). Plant available P, K, N and DOC showed greater stratification in the soil profile under minimum tillage. Minimum tillage also increased aggregate stability. The effect of organic amendments (straw, compost from separately collected biogenic waste (Turk and Mihelič, 2013)) was also monitored.

Grassland experiment: Although it is a typical long-term experiment there are some useful results obtained after the three experimental years: (i) the influence of fertilizer application on botanical composition of the treated sward was significant in the first three years, (ii) the fertilizer application had also a major effect on herbage dry matter yield, and (iii) the impact of cutting regimes on the botanical composition of the sward and on the herbage DM yield was considerably lower than that of fertilization application. In general, increased amounts of nutrients, especially nitrogen, in the grassland ecosystem increased herbage dry matter yield mainly due to increased yield of the grass component. In the fourth experimental year (2014), the measures of forage quality parameters, abundance and structure of AM fungi and balance of mineral nutrients will also be included.

5. Stakeholders to be included in the research
The main stakeholders are Ministry for Agriculture and Environment (Ministrstvo za kmetijstvo in okolje), Chamber of Agriculture and Forestry of Slovenia (Kmetijsko gozdarska zbornica Slovenije), Municipality of Ljubljana (MOL), and farmers.

6. References
Kaurin A, Mihelič R, Kastelec D, Grčman H, Suhadolc M. 2013. Soil quality and microbial community changes after a decade of different tillage at two Slovenian sites with different pedo-climatic conditions. In: 12th Symposium on Bacterial Genetics and Ecology, 9-13 June 2013, Ljubljana, Slovenia. Mandić-Mulec I (ed.). Networking and plasticity of microbial communities: the secret to success. BAGECO 12. Jena: Conventus Congressmanagement & Marketing, 2013.
Turk A, Mihelič R. 2013. Wheat straw decomposition, N-mineralization and microbial biomass after 5 years of conservation tillage in Gleysol field. Acta Agriculturae Slovenica 101: 69-75.
Žigon P. 2013. Nutrient availability as a function of soil tillage intensity: MSc. thesis, Biotechnical Faculty, University of Ljubljana.
Čop J, Lavrenčič A, Košmelj K. 2009. Morphological development and nutritive value of herbage in five temperate grass species during primary growth: analysis of time dynamics. Grass and Forage Science 64: 122-131.
Čop J, Vidrih M, Hacin J. 2009. Influence of cutting regime and fertilizer application on the botanical composition, yield and nutritive value of herbage of wet grasslands in Central Europe. Grass and Forage science 64: 454-465.

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