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INPLAMINT Subproject E

Stephanie Kang and Prof. Dr. Maria Müller-Lindenlauf
Institute of Applied Agricultural Research
Nuertingen-Geislingen University


One objective of INPLAMINT is to develop novel management options that help to increase the nutrient use efficiency in agriculture. While the other subprojects investigate basic research questions related to the effects of such options on plants, soils, microorganisms and nutrient use efficiency, subprojects D and E aim to assess the sustainability and practicability of such options. One such management option is the addition of substrates with a wide C:N ratio to the soil. As microorganisms need additional nitrogen sources to utilize these substrates, they will temporarily immobilize excess nitrogen. This way, nitrogen losses (NO3-, N2O, N2) from the soil will be reduced. In the project we focus on straw, saw dust and biochar as potential substrates. In cooperation with the ifeu Heidelberg a valuation model will be build up, in order to assess their sustainability. Although the environmental impacts will be primarily assessed by the ifeu Heidelberg, we contribute to this by supporting the development of the agricultural scenarios and integrating impacts on soil into the life cycle assessment. Additionally our focus is on the socio-economic evaluation of the management options. The outcomes of our analyses are used to formulate recommendations on sustainable management options, which will be summarized in stakeholder brochures.

Main scientific questions:

  • Which ecosystem services are delivered by the soil?
  • How could potential management options look like?
  • What are the environmental impacts of these management options? (ifeu)
  • What are the socio-economic impacts of these management options?
  • How can impacts on soil be integrated into LCA?

Overview of activities

Ecosystem services of soils

In order to better understand the complex processes taking place in soils and their importance for human wellbeing, ecosystem services of soils are analysed. Ecosystem services describe the direct and indirect contributions of ecosystems to human wellbeing (TEEB, Although different classification systems exist, ecosystem services are often grouped into provisioning services, regulating services and cultural services. Being part of ecosystems, terrestrial soils contribute to all these ecosystem service categories. In an agricultural context, first associations often relate to the vital role soils play in the provision of food and fibre. Often, however, the ecosystem services of soils are not that obvious, as they contribute only indirectly to the provisioning of final goods. This includes many regulating or supporting services, such as e.g. water purification, flood mitigation, filtering of nutrients or carbon storage. These services however, are severely endangered by progressing soil degradation. Thus, our aim in INPLAMINT is, to identify important soil ecosystem services, understand the underlying mechanisms and highlight their importance. Special focus is laid on the role of soil microorganisms.

Sustainability analysis

The sustainability analysis is conducted in close co-operation with the ifeu Heidelberg (Subproject D). For the environmental evaluation Life Cycle Assessment and Environmental Impact Analysis are used. The socio-economic assessment comprises a cost-benefit analysis and a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) assessment. In order to get an overview on the most important impacts of our management option “substrate addition to soils”, we first conduct a screening analysis based on a thorough literature review. By this means, we can identify hotspots that need to be looked into in more detail. For the socio-economic assessment, we mainly chose a farmer’s perspective and have a look at the practicability of the management options and potential implementation barriers. Here, we are especially interested in economic costs and benefits for the farmers, additional time efforts, and acceptance problems. In order to focus on aspects with practical relevance, stakeholders and practitioners are closely involved.

Soils in life cycle assessment

At the moment, impacts on soils cannot be captured by common Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) approaches. However, in order to evaluate the sustainability of the chosen management options, soil needs to be included in the analysis. As this problem is not new, a few approaches were developed that integrate impacts on soil into the LCA framework. In order to identify a suited approach for our project, we conduct a pilot study, where we want to test and compare different existing tools. Here, we are especially interested in how well the tools capture effects of different soil management and how applicable they are. Due to their multi-indicator approaches, we concentrate our comparison on three tools that allow the integration of soil into Life Cycle Assessment. These tools are SALCA-SQ, LANCA and ACV-Sol.

For our analysis, we collected real farm data of 10 farms in Baden-Württemberg. In order to minimize site-specific influences, we compare pairs of farms with different soil management (direct seeding, conventional and organic farming) that are located in the same area. Data requirements include information on climate and soil conditions, on crop sequences and farming practice. For each operation on the field, we need data on the type, date and frequency of the activity (fertilization, tillage, etc.), on the inputs to the field and information on the used vehicles.

Stakeholder participation

In order to ensure a high practicability of our proposed management options, we include different stakeholders from science, politics, agricultural administration and practice into our project activities.
During a first stakeholder workshop in October 2016, we presented and discussed “substrate addition to soils” with participants especially from science and agricultural extension services. Focus was on the suitability of the different substrates, the implementation of the options on farm and potential displacement effects and alternative uses of substrates. A second stakeholder workshop is planned for September/October 2017. Here, the emphasis will be more on socio-economic aspects.
Additionally, we plan to interview stakeholders in order to find out more about potential risks and opportunities for the farmers that are connected to our management options.