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Boerenverstand will conduct a case study in the Netherlands to analyse :
- the different soil qualities as identified and experienced by researchers and stakeholders
- challenges of improving soil quality in relation to dairy farming in the Netherlands
- hindrances and positive factors in initiatives to integrate different soil functions and values, for soils concerned by dairy farming
- integrated approach on sustainable soil management (many years of experience on this field will be gathered and brought together in this project)
- improving organic mater by determining best farmer practices within the same soil type
- new impulses for sustainable soil management through “eco system services” and initiatives from dairy companies
In the course of this case study, BOERENVERSTAND will invite stakeholders (e.g. farmers, experts, local and central administration, NGOs, industry and several dairy companies) to analyse their situation, and the issues of total soil quality, and will identify among them prospective Dutch participants for the integration workshop.
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Because of its size and density, the Netherlands have considered soil as a key element of policy making quite early, notably in the environmental field. A soil protection act was voted in 1986, and several other regulations were passed since then. This regulation aims at preventing and managing in the first place soil pollution and contamination. Erosion and surface runoff are other important threats to soil in the Netherlands, and led to different policy developments, notably to prevent the side-effects of the development of a more intensive agriculture from the 1970s.
While Dutch regulation has set limits to different soil pollutants including from farming, initiatives were taken at the level of provinces, notably by farmers’ organisations, to self regulate. Pilot actions were also carried out in local farms to reach environmental goals through other ways than the ones prescribed by central government (Sonneveld A.P.W. et al, A Whole Farm Strategy to reduce Environmental Impacts of Nitrogen, in Journal of Environmental Quality, vol. 37, January-February 2008).
These experiences have shown the limits of segmented regulation at central or local level to integrate the different dimensions of soil quality, and the value of innovation at local level in this respect, building on farmers’ knowledge of their land and soil, as well as on connections between farmers and other stakeholders (local and central administration, industry, researchers, policy makers…).
Lessons can be learnt from current experiences at local level notably to understand their capacity to produce a better integration in practice of total soil quality, including the different uses and functions of soil (farming being only one of them).
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The case study focuses on new impulses to increase sustainability of dairy farming with special attention to sustainable soil management of the under laying grassland- and arable lands. The team of Frank Verhoeven developed a score for environmental impact of dairy production. The score is used for Ice-cream company “Ben & Jerry’s” and the “Beemstercheese company” to underpin their sustainability programn Caring Dairy. This score is now tested within a broad group of participating dairy farmers. The criteria for scoring sustainability are in debate at the moment, but a general agreement was made between stakeholders, government and scientists. Several instruments where brought together in 1 score for “happy planet”. (Air quality, Water quality, Soil quality, Impact on climate change, Biodiversity and Footprint)
The data needed for this score can also be used for a certificate and good results can be rewarded in a way that dairy farmers are stimulated to lower levels of nitrogen and phosphate surpluses and improve their soil quality. The province of Drenthe and Utrecht are using the score and searching for new ways of stimulating soil quality by measuring “farmers data” and rewarding “best practices”.
A synthesis of the strategy for soil quality management in Netherlands (state of the art of available research, notably from previous SNOWMAN research) will be provided as a context for the case study. An unique approach in The Netherlands is that soil quality is put on the agenda by the dairy industry. Lowering emissions to ground-and surface water, improving the utilisation of phosphates and improving organic matter content and biodiversity is not a popular subject. Dutch governments are “withdrawing” but on the other hand “strong trade marks” like Ben & Jerry and Beemstercheese have to underlay their sustainability claims toward the consumers.
The chosen cycle-approach aims at a “win-win” situation. The dairy farmers are working on lowering external inp
uts (e.g. concentrates and artificial fertilizer) while maintaining or improving the production of the land and the cows. Sustainable soil management is essential to further improve the scores.
The case study will take the form of qualitative and technical research in the form of interviews and data collection of 25 to 30 individuals.
The chosen case will focus on a situation in which there are particular tensions between regulation of dairy farming impacts, new farmers practices, and other new challenges (e.g. climate change, increasing carbon levels in the soil by “non-ploughing”, biodiversity, water quality and landscape conservation). The case study will focus on one particular region, while taking into account the relations to province and central government, and experts.
The “environmental score” (see picture on the right) and several more scores on sustainable dairy farming and sustainable soil management particularly, will be written down and discussed, compared to other scoring systems in the other participating countries.
This case study will be carried out in the forms of interviews and expert meetings with farmers and relevant stakeholders (see before). Data analyses will be carried out and several examples and best practices will be written down and discussed. In the end a description of sustainable soil management in relation to dairy farming will be given, a list of measurements, potential scores (range of results) and the potential use for government regulation and/or ecosystem services will be written down.
To measure the quality of the soil belonging to the dairy farms it’s important to look at the Organic Matter (OM) content of the soil as one of the key-indicators. Research done by Sonneveld et al. showed that within the exact same type of soil (in theory), OM content differed more than 4% due to differences in management of the farmer (in practice). Causes like the amount of applied fertilizer, the quality of the organic manure, land use, ploughing, water management, etc., affect the quality of the soil throughout the years. An optimal OM content is needed to lower inputs and to improve the amount and quality of the grasslands and fodder crops on a long term. In the used "cycle approach" the aim is to improve the quality of the soil, the crops (mainly grasslands), storage of the harvested feed and the manure quality. As a result farmers can successfully lower their inputs of concentrates and their use of artificial fertilizer. Farmers knowledge combined with scientific knowledge is effectively used to improve the nutrient cycle (efficiency) on dairy farms. The "cycle approach" is therefore a very promising novelty and supported by governmental organizations like several provinces through out the Netherlands.
Within the SAS-STRAT project the Dutch case study will deliver:
- A description how sustainable soil management at the level of dairy farmers is measured and what the results are so far;
- A set of recommendations how sustainable soil management at the level of dairy farmers can be further stimulated;
- A new methodology to work with best farmer practices (one soil type within the Netherlands is selected);
- A description of the role of organic matter in sustainable soil management in relation to water retention, climate change and long term production capacity.