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Digging Into Soil Quality

Hands on activity on "Determination of soil quality indicators such as soil structure and aggregate stability" | © BOKU / The University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences Vienna

For farmers, the topic of biodiversity includes not only above-ground biodiversity, which is easy to score using scientific methods, but also biodiversity below the soil surface. This is very important for soil fertility and is therefore a foundational basis of functional biodiversity for farmers. Through it the farmer influences the yields of crops and thus the food security of the population is influenced. For this reason, we are focusing on soil biodiversity and soil quality in 2022! In doing so, we have been reaching out to farmers, land owners and land managers.

Soil biodiversity and active soil life cannot be determined by a single parameter but is the sum of various soil properties. We bring these soil properties closer to the farmers on the action days.

We choose methods to assess these properties that can be easily tried out in the field by farmers and then passed on by farmers to other farmers and the public.

Starting in 2023, we will move step by step into above-ground biodiversity. Here, too, methods will be used to enable farmers to carry out biodiversity surveys independently and to pass on their knowledge. The involvement of farmers during the above-ground biodiversity assessments has already been taking place since 2021.

As part of WP3, a third action day (Farmer Cluster workshop) was held on 08 November, 2022 at Seehof in Burgenland, Austria. This was carried out by Gerid Hager, Marie-Luise Wohlmuth, Aliyeh Salehi, myself and Raja Imran Hussein. The invitation letter, agenda, earthworm protocol and other relevant documents were prepared in German and sent to farmers two months before the start of the FC workshop. Farm managers participated in the workshop.

Part of the workshop was a "Hand's on activity for earthworms". To engage farmers we sent the earthworm protocol to them and asked each farmer to independently conduct at least one earthworm survey in one of their fields (at least 3, ideally 5 plots) and to send us the results.

We also asked farmers to bring two soil blocks (approx. 20 cm * 20 cm * 30 cm) from the fields where earthworm surveys were conducted to the action day to investigate their soils in terms of determining soil structure and aggregate stability, and to visualize differences between their soils.

This workshop included different parts as follows:

Comparison of the earthworm results and discussion: The results of the earthworm surveys on the individual cluster farms were presented and discussed. This part was conducted by Gerid Hager.

Hands on Activity on "Determination of soil quality indicators such as soil structure and aggregate stability": this part was led by myself and Marie-Luise Wohlmuth. Each cluster farm was asked to bring two different soil blocks from their own croplands. BOKU brought three different soil blocks to show the differences in soil structure from different sites. The farmers were first shown how to grade and evaluate soil structure and aggregate stability on one soil block. Then, each farmer performed the scoring on his or her own soil block. Finally, the differences between the structures of the different soils were considered and discussed. Marie-Luise Wohlmuth calculated an index called "Gareindex" for each soil from the results of soil structure and aggregate stability. These results were also discussed in the whole group.

Presentation and discussion of results of vegetation, bird and pollinator monitoring | © BOKU / The University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences Vienna

Presentation and discussion of the results of monitoring survey in 2022: This part was caried out by Cluster Facilitator Aliyeh Salehi. The posters presented in this part are pictured. This described the methods implemented for the monitoring of vegetation, birds and pollinators. Various BHCs along bird transects and the method of selecting BHCs was explained to farmers. In addition to reporting and discussing the results of the 2022 monitoring surveys for cluster and control farms, a comparison of bird results between the years of 2021 and 2022 was also provided (Figure 16).

Presentation of concrete measures for the promotion of biodiversity: This part was led by Raja Imran Hussain and myself. Here they presented and discussed the possibilities and measures to promote biodiversity with a focus on pollinators. In addition, I provided the farmers with further information from Johannes Hohenegger regarding measures for field bird-friendly management.

We look forward to keeping you updated on progress our Farmer Cluster! I led a session with farmers considering the outlook for 2023 where we exchanged on the following topics:

  • Ideas for possible follow-up events and topics (from soil diversity to above-ground biodiversity), e.g. field visits with the observation of pollinators (bumblebees, butterflies, etc.) in early summer;

  • Learning and testing the field methods that can be done independently;

  • Assessment which biodiversity-enhancing management measures have already been implemented on the cluster farms in recent years;

  • Exchange of experience and knowledge among farmers about the promotion of biodiversity on their farms.


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