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Institute of

AK Climate-Smart Agriculture



Lead Institute AK Institute of Climate-Smart Agriculture

Examing a soil-profile several years after deep-ploughing. The formerly turned organic matter rich topsoil and sandy subsoil horizons are still clearly visible below the regularly shallow ploughed topsoil.
© Thünen-Institut/Axel Don

Sustainable  Subsoil Management

Hidden under the organic matter rich surface soil  the subsoil is widely ignored as ressource for nutrients and water for plant production. The SOIL3 project aims at investigating the ressources of subsoils on a national scale. Options for an enhanced sustainable use and management of subsoil ressources will be evaluated.

Background and Objective

Plants extract between 10 and 80% of their nutrient and water demand from subsoils, but including the subsoil into sustainable management strategies is still in its fledging stages. In the SOIL3 project we evaluate how and to which degree the subsoil can be managed to secure or even increase plant yields and yield security by improving the overall nutrient and water use efficiency for field crops.



The rooting depth of crops is the key for agricultural subsoil management. We investigate the factors that determine rooting depth and distribution and evaluate options to facilitate deeper roots. The data from the German soil inventory agricultural and several long-term field experiments will be used to assess for the first time status and options of subsoil ressource use in Germany.

Involved external Thünen-Partners

  • Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn
    (Bonn, Deutschland)
  • Technische Universität München
    (München, Weihenstephan, Freising, Deutschland)
  • Forschungszentrum Jülich
    (Jülich, Deutschland)
  • Ecologic Institut
    (Berlin, Deutschland)

Funding Body

  • Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF)
    (national, öffentlich)


10.2015 - 1.2025

More Information

Project funding number: 031B1066E
Funding program: BMBF - BonaRes
Project status: ongoing


  1. 0

    Schneider F, Amelung W, Don A (2021) Origin of carbon in agricultural soil profiles deduced from depth gradients of C:N ratios, carbon fractions, δ13C and δ15N values. Plant Soil 460:123-148, DOI:10.1007/s11104-020-04769-w

  2. 1

    Schneider F, Poeplau C, Don A (2021) Predicting ecosystem responses by data-driven reciprocal modelling. Global Change Biol 27(21):5670-5679, DOI:10.1111/gcb.15817

  3. 2

    Schneider F, Don A (2019) Root-restricting layers in German agricultural soils. Part I: extent and cause. Plant Soil 442(1-2):433-451, DOI:10.1007/s11104-019-04185-9

  4. 3

    Schneider F, Don A (2019) Root-restricting layers in German agricultural soils. Part II: adaptation and melioration strategies. Plant Soil 442(1-2):419-432, DOI:10.1007/s11104-019-04186-8

  5. 4

    Hobley EU, Honermeier B, Don A, Gocke MI, Amelung W, Kögel-Knabner I (2018) Decoupling of subsoil carbon and nitrogen dynamics after long-term crop rotation and fertilization. Agric Ecosyst Environ 265:363-373, DOI:10.1016/j.agee.2018.06.021

  6. 5

    Bauke SL, Sperber C von, Tamburini F, Gocke MI, Honermeier B, Schweitzer K, Baumecker M, Don A, Sandhage-Hofmann A, Amelung W (2018) Subsoil phosphorus is affected by fertilization regime in long-term agricultural experimental trials. Eur J Soil Sci 69:103-112, DOI:10.1111/ejss.12516

  7. 6

    Schneider F, Don A, Hennings I, Schmittmann O, Seidel SJ (2017) The effect of deep tillage on crop yield - What do we really know? Soil Tillage Res 174:193-204, DOI:10.1016/j.still.2017.07.005

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