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Students work from lectorate towards sustainable soil management

HAS University of Applied Sciences is involved in the project ‘Sustainable soil management’ as part of the Healthy Plant on Vital and Sustainable Soil lectorate. Growing numbers of farmers cannot see the wood for the trees anymore because every type of soil is different and requires an individual approach. The students support them with research into their choices around the theme of soil management so that we can work together towards sustainable soil management.

The two-year ‘Sustainable soil management’ project started in February 2020 as a collaboration between four green universities of applied sciences: Hogeschool Inholland (Inholland University of Applied Sciences), Hogeschool van Hall Larenstein (Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences), Aeres Hogeschool (Aeres University of Applied Sciences) and HAS Hogeschool (HAS University of Applied Sciences). Each university covers its own region and faces its own challenges. The objective is to combine this knowledge and, where necessary, supplement it with research to provide farmers with the tools they need to work towards sustainable soil management.

Every region has its own challenges

Healthy soil is a prerequisite for our society to provide us with adequate nutrients, water purification, carbon sequestration and biodiversity, now and in the future. Not only is the knowledge about sustainable soil management fragmented, it also varies for each type of soil, region, farm type and also for each plot. “Every region has its own challenges. At HAS University of Applied Sciences, we focus on the loss of organic material management and the associated leaching of nutrients,” clarifies Lyanne de Haan, project staff member at the lectorate. How will they achieve these goals? “In three ways: we research the effect of tillage on soil biology, we monitor multiple soil parameters, and we carry out a literature study into organic material management and carbon storage.”

Advising on the right choices

Researchers monitor data using sensors and soil biology analyses. In addition, they look back into ten years of soil analyses by the farmer. “Have the actions that the farmer has carried out on his plot led to changes in the soil? But also: what do we see happening on the plots of the farmers involved? Do the soil parameters affect each other?” explains Lyanne. To be able to advise the farmer to make the right choices regarding organic material management, the build-up cannot be seen separately from the breakdown of organic matter. Based on the literature study, the researchers want to publish advice on how a farmer can work on organic matter management. Questions that arise include: how does the build-up of organic matter management work, as well as the breakdown? What is the organic matter made up of? What do we need to measure exactly, and how should we do that?

Leaders in sustainable soil management

“The soil analyses of today are still very much focused on the chemistry but tell us very little about the functionality of soil life. Thanks to the soil biology analyses of our partner companies TreeMania, RobaLabs and Brightlabs, we can now explain this much better,” adds Lyanne. “From the participating farmers’ enthusiasm for the research, we can deduce that our results offer genuinely useful information regarding the soil life that they know so little about. They recognise the findings. It is the frontrunners in the area of vital and sustainable soil that are involved in this project, and if this experiment helps them to find their way towards sustainable soil management, this knowledge and way of working can spread effectively.”

Quick results

The collaboration between many universities of applied sciences and partner companies, and the diversity of knowledge it brings together, are unique features of the ‘Sustainable Soil Management’ project. While monitoring this project will continue until February 2022, it is already clear that plots function in very different ways. “We monitor the soil biology and soil chemistry and indirectly consider the soil structure as well; every plot functions differently. Although it takes many years to establish the connection between soil management and the soil, we expect to draw more conclusions in the coming six months. But the most important lesson so far is that the differences between the plots are essential.”