Earlier this week, we ran the next in our series of webinars aimed at educating policy makers and the food industry on the contribution plant biostimulants can make to sustainable agriculture. All life depends on soil, a fact long recognised by farmers and increasingly acknowledged by policymakers. To reflect this, the focus was Soil Health, which is more and more recognised by industry leaders as a priority. As awareness of the importance of protecting and restoring our soils grows, a proposal for a European Soil Health Law is in the making.
Produced and moderated by EBIC, the webinar hosted presentations from the European Commission, academic experts and the biostimulants industry to discuss the future of soil health in Europe. With over 200 participants, the level of interest in the subject – and in plant biostimulants – is clear.
Our first speaker was Emmanuel Petel. He is responsible for Soils in the Unit B2 Environmental Sustainability of DG AGRI, part of the European Commission. He began by highlighting why soils need our attention and the costs caused by soil degradation in the EU, which exceed EUR 50 billion per annum. Some soil degradation processes are being addressed, in part through existing Green Deal targets and the green architecture of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Both incentivise farmers to adopt soil conservation practices and reward them for voluntary adoption of practices that aim to promote soil health.
Mr Petel explained that the EU pathway to healthy soils includes a combination of initiatives such as the EU Soil Strategy for 2030, the Soil Health Law currently under preparation, the European Soil Observatory and the EU Mission A Soil Deal for Europe. He discussed the elements within the new Soil Health Law proposal and confirmed that it will be adopted by the Commission in spring 2023.
Angela Sessitsch, Head of Competence Unit, AIT Austrian Institute of Technology outlined the importance of the soil microbiome for soil health. Her presentation revolved around the concept that ‘Everything starts in the soil’ and included some hard-hitting evidence about the complexity of the plant and soil microbiome. She discussed the effects microorganisms can have on plants, including nutrient acquisition and tolerance to abiotic stresses, and the combined effects of a healthy microbiome on crop performance, including storability post-harvest. She went on to touch on the need for ongoing research to optimise delivery technologies and mentioned the potential of data sciences in the future of microbial plant biostimulants.
EBIC was represented by Antonis Angeletakis, Co-Chair of EBIC’s Mid-Term Strategy Steering Committee and Director for Biostimulants at Yara. He introduced the three aspects of soil fertility – physical, chemical and biological – and considered how plant biostimulants contribute to each one. Following on from Angela Sessitsch’s comments on the soil microbiome, he discussed how microbial plant biostimulants help reinforce and replenish communities of beneficial microorganisms. These microorganisms fix nitrogen or solubilize phosphorus, optimising fertiliser inputs. However, he also highlighted the opportunities being lost because of the current Fertilising Products Regulation, which only allows for four types of microorganisms to be used in CE-marked microbial plant biostimulants.
The webinar concluded with a panel discussion moderated by Sara Garcia Figuera of the EBIC Secretariat, who used her in-depth knowledge of the subject to guide the conversation and inject relevant audience questions.
Discussion was lively, detailed and interesting. You are able to watch it back by submitting your details here.