Main research question
Large-scale agricultural production, which is often accompanied by the use of heavy machinery, results in an increased risk of soil compaction. Farmer organizations, agricultural representatives and the government have all expressed concerns about the economic and environmental impact of soil compaction and have requested more research on the subject. This research project addresses those concerns by evaluating specific soil compaction remediation methods and by educating farmers about ways to prevent soil compaction.
We perform experiments on various farmers' fields to test soil compaction prevention and remediation techniques (e.g. deep tillage, crop rotation, cover crops). The different techniques are selected in close collaboration with farmers and other possible stakeholders such as contractors, manufacturers of tires or tillage equipment, etc. To support farmer education, we perform a cost-benefit analysis (e.g. fuel consumption, investment costs, crop yields) about remediation and prevention of soil compaction. Knowledge transfer throughout the project is accomplished via a project website, organization of seminars and demonstrations, a newsletter and continued expansion of the Terranimo© tool.
This study has wide-reaching imacts: Worldwide and in Flanders the two main physical threats to soil are soil compaction and erosion. Soil compaction is a major threat to the sustainability of agriculture. In periods of heavy rainfall, it can impair drainage and lead to flooding. In dry periods, roots can't reach down far enough to the deeper soil levels and therefore cannot access existing water, causing drought stress. This can influence crop nutrient and water uptake, all of which result in depressed crop yield. One of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is to stop and reverse land degradation (SDG 15: Life on land). Likewise, the Flemish Government focusses on the prevention of soil compaction by identifying prevention of soil organic matter loss, erosion and compaction as one of their operational goals (OD 39, policy document ‘Omgeving 2014-2019’). Finally, several (Flemish) climate models predict longer drought periods followed by heavy rainfall (e.g. IPCC 2014). This draws attention on the water holding capacity of the soil, which is directly linked to physical soil structure including soil compaction.