Sustainable soil management - Farmers’ perspectives on subsoil compaction and the opportunities and barriers for intervention

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Soils are the foundation for agricultural production, ecosystem functioning and for human well-being, but paradoxically only limited attention has been given towards sustainable soil management in most national and European policies. Preventing subsoil compaction is essential for ensuring soil functions and ecosystem services, because subsoil compaction is virtually persistent, reduces yields, as well as increases greenhouse gas emissions and the leaching of pollutants. However, it is also challenging as the subsoil compaction risk is dynamic and difficult for stakeholders to observe and address. Hence, this article explores the drivers of soil degradation and discuss the opportunities and barriers for a sustainable governance of the soil resource, based on a case study of subsoil compaction in Danish farming. The article draws on a mixed method case study incorporating qualitative and quantitative elements. Findings suggest that current agricultural practice entails a large risk for subsoil compaction, particularly manure distribution and harvest operations. While farmers, in general, are concerned about the effect of the agricultural practice on their fields, a number of barriers prevent them from addressing subsoil compaction. These include knowledge deficit, technological barriers, responsibility outsourcing, pragmatic tradeoffs, as well as the systemic and wicked problematic nature of subsoil compaction. Hence, we argue for a systemic response including: 1) Competence development, 2) visualization of the compaction risk, 3) changing incentives of field practice, 4) technological innovation and 5) a policy framework. This could systemically address the subsoil compaction risk, integrating the multiple factors that influence how farmers decide on their practices.

Original languageEnglish
JournalLand Use Policy
Volume86
Pages (from-to)427-437
Number of pages11
ISSN0264-8377
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2019

    Research areas

  • Farming Systems Theory, Soil degradation, Soil governance, Soil management, Subsoil compaction

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