Six of the soil degradation processes recognised at European Union (EU) level are closely linked to agriculture. Soil degradation implies a need for protection, maintenance and improvement of soil quality. However, due to the public good characteristics of soil quality, the market does not sufficiently assure its provision. Thus, policy intervention is required to reach desired levels of soil quality through appropriate practices. This paper provides a comprehensive overview of EU policies that have scope for addressing soil degradation in agriculture. To this aim, EU legislation and legislative proposals along with related evaluations and research projects were analysed with the intervention logic approach.
To date, soil protection is not a specific objective of EU legislation but features in some policies as a secondary objective. Pursuing other environmental objectives contributes to some extent to soil quality, although not always effectively. The most important EU environmental directives for soil quality are the Nitrates Directive and the Water Framework Directive.
Under the Common Agricultural Policy, the compulsory requirement to keep land in good agricultural and environmental condition plays an important role in soil protection and conservation. Rural development policy, in particular agri-environment measures, offers Member States or regions options for encouraging farmers to achieve environmental quality beyond a predefined reference level.
Overall, the study indicates that the existing EU policies have the potential to address all recognised soil degradation processes across the EU. Nevertheless, they should be well targeted and require appropriate farm management in order to reach desired levels of soil quality. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.