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Soil Quality Assessment Research Project (SQUARE)

Soil is a vital non-renewable resource delivering multiple functions simultaneously. These multiple functions include food and fibre production, nutrient retention and cycling, carbon storage, filtration of water and a habitat for soil biodiversity. The ability of the soil to deliver multiple functions simultaneously is called functional soil capacity.

In Ireland the objectives of Food Harvest 2020 place a demand on soil to support the intensification of agriculture to meet global food security objectives. Simultaneously, greening objectives of the Common Agricultural Policy insist that increases in production must be achieved in a sustainable manner. In Europe, compaction has been highlighted (Creamer et al., 2010) as a major threat to soil quality, yet there is limited information available on compaction in Ireland.

This knowledge gap underpins the focus of the SQUARE project which seeks to:

  • Develop a toolbox for farmers to assess soil structural quality
  • Further develop understanding of the soil functional capacity and quality concept
  • Evaluate the status of soil structural quality in grassland and tillage soils across Ireland
  • Assess the impact of soil structural degradation on the functional capacity of the soil

Why now?

In Ireland, to meet both our productivity and environmental targets we need to understand the key issues impeding production as well as issues that affect soil quality. Any reduction in soil quality will impact the delivery of productivity and environmental soil functions. The demands on the soil resource in relation to functional capacity have never been greater. The SQUARE project seeks to enhance the functional capacity of soil to support the co-existence of environmental sustainability with increased food outputs.

The Irish Soil Information System has, for the first time mapped the soils of Ireland at a scale of 1:250,000. Challenges to sustainability and production vary spatially based on location. This map therefore, provides an important platform for soils research in Ireland.