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The main objectives of SUSTAIN are:

  • to understand how reduced tillage systems, as compared to conventional tillage systems, impact soil functional biodiversity and soil functions such as soil structural maintenance, organic matter and nutrient cycling, water regulation, filtering and pest regulation;
  • to quantify the consequences of reduced tillage systems on the soil ecosystem services of food production and GHG mitigation;
  • to investigate the socio-economic sustainability of reduced tillage systems;
  • to develop and disseminate tools as soil disturbance indicators, system sustainability evaluation.

SUSTAIN brings together a broad spectrum of expertise in soil biology, soil physic, soil chemistry and agronomy as well as tools for integrated soil ecosystem analysis. This expertise is combined with the economic and social evaluation of services provided by soil biodiversity. Such trans-disciplinarity in integrating soil sciences and social and economic aspects is novel when assessing the impact of reduced tillage systems.

The study will be conducted in France and the Netherlands in order:

  • to compare data from two European countries strongly interested in the development and evaluation of reduced-tillage systems;
  • to exchange and enhance the skills of the respective research groups. Moreover, the complementarity of the experimental sites will allow the assessment of many soil services under contrasting conditions and help to derive generic soil quality indicators.

SUSTAIN will combine the use of field experiment and desk study as it will be based on the analysis of new data recorded during the project, combined with assessment of existing datasets already recorded by each team (since 10 years for France, 3 years for the Netherlands). The combination of new and existing data sets will allow for a broader perspective, reflecting different time scales. Tasks will be carried out at different experimental field sites and through regional farm networks, which allows for the integration of studies carried out under controlled experimental conditions versus on-farm conditions, different geographical levels such as site, regional, national (France, Netherlands) and cross-national scales. This set-up also facilitates the dissemination of knowledge and best practices among relevant stakeholders, from farmers to policy makers at national and European levels.

Detailed objectives:

  • To assess keystone soil fauna groups (earthworms and nematodes) in experimental sites to determine the response of functional soil biodiversity to reduced tillage systems (WP2)
  • To assess chemical and physical parameters reflecting soil functions such as maintenance of soil structure (distribution of bioturbations i.e. biopores and aggregates, morphological structure, soil structural stability), organic matter (soil C content, organic matter characterization) and nitrogen (N) cycling, water regulation (infiltration, conductivity, runoff and soil erosion, water retention) and filtering (pesticide losses, pesticide content and leaching) (WP3)
  • To quantify the soil ecosystem services of i) food production, in terms of quantity (yield) and quality (proteins, mycotoxins) and ii) GHG mitigation (WP4)
  • To evaluate the socio-economic aspects through the quantification of economical balance sheets at the crop system level and the rotation (quantification of economic budget at farm scale, but without breeding aspect), and sociological surveys of farmers' motivation and willingness to change their practices (WP5). This socio-economic evaluation will be done through representative regional farm networks, focusing on monetary aspect (costs-benefits).

  • All data from WP2, WP3, WP4, WP5 will be integrated through different modeling approaches (WP6) to:

  • Detect and develop soil indicators (WP6). Multivariate statistical approaches will be applied to analyze the relationships between soil biodiversity (WP2), soil functions (WP3) and soil ecosystem services (WP4) in order to identify indicators of sustainable soil management, accounting for multiple ecosystem functions and services.
  • Evaluate the environmental impact of tillage systems through the improvement of Life Cycle Analysis (WP6 using data from WP2, WP3, WP4, WP5)
  • Evaluate the socio-economic sustainability of tillage systems by using modelling tools (e.g. MASK) applied at the Cultural Systems scale (WP6 using data from WP5).

  • The dissemination of knowledge (WP7) will be ensured through scientific publication, however a strong effort will also be made to distribute information to end-users. This will be achieved through the production of brochures or booklets specifically targeted at different stakeholders (farmers, technicians and policy makers). Moreover, summer schools, events (field days, week of sciences) at local and national scales and meetings addressing different stakeholder groups will also aid in information transfer. The website and involvement of the European Learning Network on Functional Agrobiodiversity (FAB), a multi-stakeholder network for sharing of knowledge and FAB-based best practices will ensure European wide dissemination.

  • Interact with stakeholders such as farmers to i) raise awareness on soil biodiversity and soil functions related to agricultural practices, ii) provide guidelines for good practices (WP7 using data from WP2, WP3, WP4)
  • Interact with policy makers to provide recommendations on implementation strategies for improving soil biodiversity levels and associated services for the long-term sustainable management of soils (WP5 and WP6).

Moreover, an "orientation" committee composed of international scientists, end-users and policy makers (national, European scale) will be proposed as support for exchange of ideas during the programme.

The SUSTAIN project covers topics 1 and 2 of SNOWMAN, and addresses funders' priorities by assessing functional soil biodiversity which falls under topic 1 "soil functions and ecosystem services". It will allow for better understanding of the role of soil functional biodiversity in ecosystem functioning of managed ecosystems, with a focus on agro-ecological and environmental functions such as nutrient cycling, maintenance of soil structure, soil moisture and organic matter and pathogen control). Through its trans-disciplinary approach, SUSTAIN will try to improve Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) by testing the possibility of integrating soil ecosystem functions into more general multi-criteria evaluation of environmental impacts (LCA). It will also develop tools for cost-benefit analysis of soil ecosystem functions, soil organisms and soil biodiversity.
SUSTAIN also partly covers topic 2 "sustainable agriculture" by investigating the impact of agricultural management (tillage system) on soil quality. Moreover, SUSTAIN will assess the role of soil in the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions.