In Catalonia they investigate how to care for the soil through regenerative agriculture

The impact on soil health and biodiversity of a set of techniques, such as plant covers, organic fertilization or reduced tillage, will be monitored. The research seeks to understand the microbiological processes involved in carbon sequestration and to develop predictive models of a key cycle to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Soil conservation and recovery is one of the most important issues in terms of current good agricultural practices. The advance of agriculture on land with little structure, added to the effects of climate change, is generating a great loss of this essential and limited resource.

The purpose of regenerative agriculture is restore soil health, both in terms of physical structure and biodiversity and chemical composition, through ecological processes.

Projects for a healthier soil

With the idea of ​​continuing to add to regenerative agriculture, IRTA and in conjunction with the Center for Ecological Research and Forestry Applications (CREAF) and the University of Lleida (UdL) have recently launched the AgriRegenCat and AgriCarboniCat projects. Both projects are focused on agriculture in Catalonia and the biotic and abiotic factors that influence it and whose common objective is identify the best agricultural practices to increase soil ecosystem services.

The crops on which the tests will be carried out are the following: wheat, rice, apple trees, vineyards, orchards and pastures. Although the projects are focused on a final result, each one will analyze different parts of the processes involved. In the case of AgriCarboniCat, will monitor the effects on carbon sequestrationWhile AgriRegenCat will focus on aspects such as soil fertility and biodiversity and its ability to withstand extreme weather events.

Various regenerative practices are already applied to extensive agriculture, such as direct seeding, but without a doubt, their use can be adapted to similar techniques for intensive systems. The impact of agriculture generates a direct effect on the soil structure and it is up to us to discover which are those techniques that allow us to continue producing with the least possible effect. For example, an excess in the use of phytosanitary products or tillage compromises its biodiversity (underground and on the surface) and, therefore, its natural fertility.

A healthy soil is much more than ensuring production

However, the benefits of regenerative agriculture go beyond the productivity of the land. A soil with good structure more resistant to erosion and contributes to retain more water, two essential services for ecosystems. On the contrary, the lack of organic matter makes it more vulnerable: «in the Mediterranean basin, torrential rains erode the most bare soils. Tons per hectare and year are lost. If it disappears, our grandchildren will not get it back, it is not renewable on a human scale," he says. Georgina Alins, IRTA researcher and coordinator of AgriRegenCat. Also read: The importance of keeping the soil alive.

Improve carbon balance

In the biological cycle of life, one of the most important elements is the carbon. Its excess or deficit can seriously affect the balance of the ecosystem and that is why its correct management is so important. Read also: The Spanish agri-food system measured through the carbon footprint.

Carbon is absorbed from the atmosphere through the process of photosynthesis carried out by plants, then it is fixed in the soil when the plants die, and finally it is released back into the atmosphere by decomposers. Agricultural management can intervene in this cycle. This is the case of practices studied at AgriCarboniCat: «We want to increase the amount of carbon in the soil, make it difficult to decompose and remain underground, and that this occurs both due to its chemical nature and the diversity of microorganisms. In relation to microorganisms, the more they have to compete with each other, the slower the degradation of organic matter will be," he points out. Maite Martinez-Eixarch.

About the projects

AgriCarboniCat and AgroRegenCat will close in 2025, after a phase of transfer of good agricultural practices, with sector workshops or public awareness activities. Both are projects coordinated by IRTA, with the participation of CREAF and financed by the Climate Fund of the Department of Climate Action, Food and Rural Agenda. The University of Lleida participates in the research in AgriCarboniCat.

The projects have, for their execution, between 2022 and 2025, a budget of 2,6 million euros. 2 million for regenerative agriculture (AgriRegenCat) and 600.000 euros for the one focused on carbon agriculture (AgriCarboniCat). All are fully contributed by the Department of Climate Action, Food and Rural Agenda through the Climate Fund, which is nourished with 50% of the income obtained from the tax on CO2 emissions from mechanically-tracted vehicles and 20% from the collection of the tax on facilities that affect the environment.

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