Current soil carbon management practices

The type of soil/crop management practices promoted nationally and in the case study area with particular emphasis on the soil carbon management practices listed

There is no evidence of specific Government policies for promoting soil carbon management practices in any of the case study countries. Soil carbon management is very rarely a subject of advice on its own, but it is an integrated part of other programmes such as cross-compliance, fertilizer management programmes and agri-environmental schemes. Currently the cross-compliance measures represent the most active legislative tool dealing with soil management practices. However often the focus is on legal requirements of GAEC and to a lesser extent on practical and technological information. Measures are promoted through a combination of regulation and voluntary incentives. A range of promotional activities using different materials and mechanisms were described.  Knowledge dissemination in relation to soil protection problems lags behind other environmental issues in Hungary and Poland often due to limited staff and financial resources.

The extent to which farmers and advisors are aware of, advise on and implement soil management practices with particular emphasis on soil carbon management

The extent to which farmers and advisors are aware of soil carbon management practices varies considerably between the case study countries. In some countries, such as Denmark and Scotland there is a growing awareness of the issue, particularly amongst organic farms and large agri-businesses while in others, for example Poland,  awareness is generally low. The extent to which soil carbon management practices are implemented seems to be predicated on the level of farm economic security, as many farmers (and some advisors) are unconvinced of the economic benefits. For farmers and their advisors economic priorities prevail and profit maximisation is a driver.

Barriers to the promotion and uptake of soil management practices

Debates about the efficacy of different practices for sequestering carbon and for enhancing productivity were described and a lack of consensus about best practice. The perception of scientific uncertainty limits the credibility of any recommendations. Related to this is the lack of evidence or real examples and the difficulty of demonstrating of the positive effects of soil management practices and economic benefits over a long time scale. Improving scientific clarity on “best practice is though to be critical. Soil carbon management practices are often perceived by farmers as uneconomic, impractical or expensive to implement because they require investment in new technology. Lack of technical knowledge or familiarity with practices compounds this. Also commercial imperatives often override good practice.

Incentives (and actions required) to encourage uptake of soil management

It was agreed that farmers are predominantly motivated by economic actions and decisions and have a relatively short-term outlook. Incentives therefore need to be financial, provided either as subsidies or by demonstrating the financial gains of implementation. Regulations or sanctions were less popular suggestions, while most partners suggested improving advisory mechanisms, simplifying the message, using the ‘right’ language, targeting advice and making it appropriate at the farm scale and integrating it with other advice programmes.

Information used to design soil protection measures and practices, the format in which this information is available, gaps in knowledge and the level of confidence in the data

Most countries reported good information sources in Hungary and Italy available data is not up-to-date, often not complete, and lacking integration and with different levels of details. Confidence in maps and data was questioned in some countries including Scotland where fields are being constantly remapped.