Knowledge needs, available practices, and future challenges in agricultural soils

Key, Georgina and Whitfield, Michael George and Cooper, Julia and De Vries, Franciska Trijntje and Collison, Martin and Dedousis, Thanasis and Heathcote, Richard and Roth, Brendan and Mohammed, Shamal and Molyneux, Andrew and Van der Putten, Wim H. and Dicks, Lynn V. and Sutherland, William J. and Bardgett, Richard David (2016) Knowledge needs, available practices, and future challenges in agricultural soils. SOIL, 2. pp. 511-521. ISSN 2199-3971

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The goal of this study is to clarify research needs and identify effective practices for enhancing soil health. This was done by a synopsis of soil literature that specifically tests practices designed to maintain or enhance elements of soil health. Using an expert panel of soil scientists and practitioners, we then assessed the evidence in the soil synopsis to highlight practices beneficial to soil health, practices considered detrimental, and practices that need further investigation. A partial Spearman's correlation was used to analyse the panel's responses. We found that increased certainty in scientific evidence led to practices being considered to be more effective due to them being empirically justified. This suggests that for practices to be considered effective and put into practice, a substantial body of research is needed to support the effectiveness of the practice. This is further supported by the high proportion of practices (33 %), such as changing the timing of ploughing or amending the soil with crops grown as green manures, that experts felt had unknown effectiveness, usually due to insufficiently robust evidence. Only 7 of the 27 reviewed practices were considered to be beneficial, or likely to be beneficial in enhancing soil health. These included the use of (1) integrated nutrient management (organic and inorganic amendments); (2) cover crops; (3) crop rotations; (4) intercropping between crop rows or underneath the main crop; (5) formulated chemical compounds (such as nitrification inhibitors); (6) control of traffic and traffic timing; and (7) reducing grazing intensity. Our assessment, which uses the Delphi technique, is increasingly used to improve decision-making in conservation and agricultural policy, identified practices that can be put into practice to benefit soil health. Moreover, it has enabled us to identify practices that need further research and a need for increased communication between researchers, policy-makers, and practitioners, in order to find effective means of enhancing soil health.

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09 Mar 2017 10:12
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21 Sep 2023 02:13