Healthy Soils

Expected July 2020
Soil quality in the Netherlands is deteriorating. What long-term measures are needed to ensure sustainable soil management?
foto dry soil and one plant

Background and question

The quality of the soil is of major importance to society. After all, the health of the soil affects food production, water quality, water buffering, climate adaptation, biodiversity, carbon sequestration and climate mitigation.

The Minister for Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality has presented two documents to the House of Representatives: the Soil Strategy (23 May 2018) and the National Agricultural Soils Programme (25 April 2019). Both documents state that by 2030, all Dutch agricultural soils (1.8 million hectares) will be managed sustainably and that society appreciates the efforts made towards sustainable soil management. What this means is not entirely clear; the documents mainly provide a framework. They indicate the general direction, but the precise details will be determined in consultation with the stakeholders.

This advice addresses agricultural, forest and conservation soils. The quality of these soils depends on the amount of organic matter and on soil chemistry, soil life, soil structure, hydrology and rooting.

Consensus is that soil quality in the Netherlands is deteriorating and that this will (in time) lead to decline in agricultural production and biodiversity, both in number and quality. The bird population is already suffering from the lack of earthworms in the soil, and soil transplantation is needed to restore natural habitats.

Agriculture has been identified as one of the causes of soil deterioration, specifically its focus on short-term productivity, monocropping, use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers, fertilisation to control plant diseases, high land prices, and tillage using heavy machinery. Other causes are drought, invasive species and salinization. In addition, soil quality is impacted by diffuse airborne pollutants, by contaminants that leak from landfill sites, solar parks and industrial areas, by contaminated dredging that is deposited on land, and so on. Climate change is also accelerating the decline in organic matter in the soil.

The 2019-2020 work programme states the question addressed in the advisory report as follows:
What long-term measures are needed to ensure sustainable soil management, also in relation to the implementation of the government’s Soil Strategy?

Composition of the Council Committee

Krijn Poppe, Council member and committee chairperson
André van der Zande, Council member

External committee members

Koos Biesmeijer (scientific director of Naturalis Biodiversity Center and professor of Natural Capital at Leiden University)
Wim Stegeman (farmer and owner of Stegeman Agro Consultancy)

Information or response: 

For more information about the advisory report, please contact project leader Nicole van Buren at nicole.van.buren@rli.nl or +31 (0)6-10172005.