Soil Protection: Good agricultural practice

Dossier

Crawler tractor and disc harrow for conservative preparation of soil
Crawler tractor and disc harrow for conservative preparation of soil (© aid infodienst/P. Meyer)

Soils build up extremely slowly. They have been developing since the last Ice Age about 10 thousand years ago. Even now, new soil is building up. However, we should see soil as a non-renewable limited resource.


The development of only one centimeter of soil takes a long time – around 100 years – whereas intensive summer thunderstorms and dry winds in spring can carry away a lot of soil in only one day.

The first centimeters are very precious for soil organisms and for human beings. The dark humus layer not only feels good and smells nice, it also comprises nutrients and the air that the plant roots of our food plants breathe. Humus also promotes the water retention capacity as well as water absorbency of soils. Thus, it influences the water balance of wide landscapes. Good agricultural practice stands for maintaining the fertile humus cover, as well as sustainable use with soil-conserving field traffic and fertilization. On the other hand, bad farming practices are dangerous as they can lead to irreversible compaction and subtle acidification – resulting in less productivity.

Soil loss often goes unnoticed. The loss of one ton of soil per hectare and year equals only 0.06 millimetres of soil for one hectare. So, it can be that a creeping loss of our fertile topsoil does happen: the loss of one ton of soil per year cannot be compensated in 50 to 100 years. Furthermore, a restoration of affected soil functions afterwards is nearly impossible.

There are many good reasons why the Federal Soil Protection Law specifically highlights the principle of precaution. In short: Healthy soils are a prerequisite for sustainable development. The concepts for soil use are as diverse as the soil types in Germany. How sensitively they react to certain damage varies greatly depending on different types of soils, regions and forms of land use. We can avoid by applying Good agricultural practice by farmers. Our responsibility is to develop a location-adapted soil use that guarantees the production of healthy food or resources and at the same time protect them.

The principles of Good agricultural practice

  1. Location-adapted cultivation
  2. Preserve or improve soil structure
  3. Avoid compaction by smart field traffic
  4. Avoid water and wind erosion by soil cover
  5. Conserve hedges and other landscape elements
  6. Preserve or stimulate soil biodiversity by crop rotation
  7. Preserve humus by adequate supply of organic matter or by conservation tillage
  8. Protect water bodies by proper distances when using fertilisers and plant protection products.

Publications

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  1. Mantau U (2014) "In den Städten liegt das Geschäft". Mikado:8-9