Agriculture and rural development

Agriculture and soil protection

Agriculture and soil protection

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Agriculture and environment
Agriculture and soil protection

The Common Agricultural Policy contributes to the protection of soil from erosion and the maintenance of soil organic matter and soil structure.

Processes like desertification, erosion, the decline in organic matter in soil, soil contamination (e.g. by heavy metals), soil compaction and salinity can reduce the ecological state and, thereby, the productive capacity of soil.

Such degradation can result from inappropriate farming practices such as unbalanced fertilisation, the excessive use of groundwater for irrigation, improper use of pesticides, use of heavy machinery, or overgrazing.

Other causes of soil degradation include the abandonment of certain farming practices. For example greater specialisation towards arable farming has frequently meant an end of traditional crop rotation systems and fertilising with green legumes (working these plants into the soil), practices that helped restore the organic matter content of soil.

The Common Agricultural Policy contributes to preventing and mitigating soil degradation processes. In particular, agri-environment measures offer opportunities for

  • favouring the build-up of soil organic matter,
  • the enhancement of soil biodiversity,
  • the reduction of soil erosion, contamination and compaction.

In addition, the provisions of cross-compliance, notably with respect to the obligation to keeping agricultural land in good agricultural and environmental condition, can play an important role for soil protection.

The European Commission adopted in 2006 a soil protection thematic strategy, including a proposal for a Soil Framework Directive, that aimed at:

  • the preservation of soil functions,
  • the prevention of soil degradation
  • the restoration of degraded soils.

The Strategy and the accompanying proposal for a Soil Framework Directive were sent in 2006 to the other European Institutions for the further steps in the decision-making process. In the Environment Council meeting of 20 December 2007, the Member States were not able to find a common position on the Commission proposal. Discussions are ongoing.

Detailed information on the EU's soil protection strategy can be found on the Soil Policy Development web pages.

On the request of the European Parliament the European Commission carried out a pilot project on "Sustainable Agriculture and Soil Conservation through simplified cultivation techniques".