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SOIL An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: original research article 25 May 2020

Submitted as: original research article | 25 May 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal SOIL.

Targeting the soil quality and soil health concepts when aiming for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the EU Green Deal

Antonello Bonfante1, Angelo Basile1, and Johan Bouma2 Antonello Bonfante et al.
  • 1Institute for Mediterranean Agricultural and Forest Systems – CNR-ISAFOM, Ercolano, 80056, Italy
  • 2Em. Prof Soil Science, Wageningen University, the Netherlands

Abstract. The soil quality and soil health concepts are widely used as soils receive more attention in the worldwide policy arena. So far, however, the distinction between the two concepts is unclear and operational procedures for measurement are still being developed. A proposal is made to focus soil health on actual soil conditions, as determined by a limited set of indicators that reflect favourable rooting conditions. In addition, soil quality can express inherent soil conditions in a given soil type (genoform) reflecting the effects of past and present soil management (expressed by various phenoforms). Soils contribute to ecosystem services that, in turn, contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals and, more recently, to the EU Green Deal. Relevant soil ecosystem services are biomass production (SDG2: zero hunger), providing clean water (SDG6); climate mitigation by carbon capture and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (SDG13: climate action) and biodiversity preservation (SDG15: life on land). The use of simulation models for the soil-water-atmosphere-plant system is proposed as a quantitative and reproducible procedure to derive single values for soil health and soil quality for current and future climate conditions. Crop production parameters from the international: yield-gap program are used combined with soil-specific parameters expressing the effects of phenoforms. These procedures focus on the ecosystem service: biomass production Other ecosystem services are determined by soil-specific management to be based on experiences obtained in similar soils elsewhere or by new research. A case study, covering three Italian soil series, illustrates the application of the proposed concepts, showing that soil types (soil series) acted significantly different to effects of management also in their reaction to climate change.

Antonello Bonfante et al.

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Antonello Bonfante et al.

Antonello Bonfante et al.


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Latest update: 06 Jul 2020
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Short summary
Soil health is an important term in the international policy arena when considering soil contributions to sustainable development. We propose a measurement method, lacking so far, and explore differences with the term soil quality. The latter describes the inherent properties of soils while soil health focuses on actual health. The procedure is illustrated for three Italian soil types, also showing the effects of climate change, demonstrating that each soil acts significantly different.
Soil health is an important term in the international policy arena when considering soil...