Main authors: Gergely Tóth, Xiaodong Song, Brigitta Tóth,Tamás Kismányoky, Oihane Fernandez-Ugalde
Editor: Jane Brandt
Source document: Tóth, G. et al. (2017) Spatial analysis of crop systems in relation to pedoclimatic conditions in Europe and China. iSQAPER Project Deliverable 2.3 34 pp


Contents table
1. Europe
2. China

1. Europe

Our analysis highlights the main features of farming by soil in Europe. Results suggest, that farmers are, in general, consciously take pedoclimatic condition of farming into account when selecting their cropping patterns. In other words, farming by soil is a common practice in the different climatic regions of Europe.

Pedoclimatic conditions are considered in their complexity by the farmers. For instance oilcrops are cultivated on relatively high share of Podzols in Mediterranean (temperate-sub oceanic) and low share of Podzols in southern sub-continantal zone, meaning that similar specific soil conditions are considered together with the prevailing climatic conditions. Other good examples of soil-based farming include rootcrop production on Histosols in the Atlantic climate zone, maize production on Gleysosls of the Southern sub-continental climate, cultivating cereals on Podzols of the Sub-Oceanic climate zone, which all can be regarded as a “farming by soil” practice, which is also recognized on this coarse scale of analysis.

The fact that both zonal and azonal soils are among the soil types that might be cropped differently from the main cropping pattern of the given regions show that apart from climatic factors soil conditions have dominant role in selecting the most suitable crop.

However, we have strong reasons to believe that soil suitability-based cropping is not practiced to its full potential over the continent at the moment. For example our finding suggests that production area of legumes are not always adapted till their full potentials for the local pedoclimatic conditions in some zones. We assume that the reason for this is not always the balanced placement with regular return after long periods of legumes to crop rotation, but because legumes considered mostly “only” as an internal crop between the preferred ones. Legume crops have positive rotational effects that need to be evaluated at rotational level. The reduction in the use of mineral N fertilizers in legume-supported rotations due to biological N2-fixation is the main resource benefit, which, in addition reduces greenhouse gas emissions too. Pea and Faba beans for example are relevant alternatives to soybeans in the European cropping systems and livestock diets, since they can be grown across Europe in the different pedoclimatic zones. Probably including legumes to the rotations based on pedoclimatic conditions would enhance the overall agronomical output. However, cropping desirable from agronomic viewpoint is not necessarily meet the profitability targets of the farm enterprises. In order to utilize the positive agronomic and environmental benefits, the remaining gross margin deficit of legumes should be compensated or further improved e.g. with the development of new value chains and markets, improvements in agronomy and breeding. Nevertheless, the agronomic and economic performance of legumes can only be adequately evaluated when all rotational effects are taken into account.

When comparing our findings with time series statistical data of crop cultivation (Eurostat 2017) we can assume that tendencies driven by policy incentives or climate change can restructure the crop composition of pedoclimatic zones rather rapidly too. Findings of farming in pedocimatic zones under the Atlantic climate underlines that economic drivers are decisive when farmers adopt their cropping (eg. oilcrops on Albeluvsiols), however soil suitability is considered too and may result in win-win situations for the economic return of crop production and management based on soil suitability (root crops on Histosols; cereals on Arenosols).

In conclusion, we can assume that pedoclimatic conditions of cropping are respected in most of Europe. Farmers crop according to edaphic conditions whenever economic considerations do not override the ecological consideration of farming.

2. China

Obviously, the farming activity in China is generally conducted on reasonable soil types according to the long agricultural history. Our results revealed the difference of main soil types in each pedoclimatic zone regarding crop types. For various climatic zones, agricultural use of soil would give rise to different problems that should be paid extra attentions to. For example, in the tropical climate area, Ferralsols could be improved by highly technical interventions and the intensive use may lead to compaction problems due to their aggregate and pore morphology. Furthermore, Ferralsols soils are very friable and are easy to manage and present a low CEC and quick drainage. Cultivation on the Acrisols would exposes soils to significant erosion, in that Tropical climate zone usually has a large annual precipitation.

Generally speaking, the cropping patterns of all the soil types are not significantly different with each other according to the Chi square statistics. There are two potential reasons for the insignificant difference:

  1. some soil types with small areal shares present dominant difference versus other soil types; and
  2. the ownership of most croplands in China was very scattered (only a few tenths of hectares) due to the large population and little farmland.

However, utilized physical area data for crops that were calculated from the MapSpam 2005 dataset (You et al., 2014) regarding pedocimatic zone. The spatial resolution of MapSpam 2005 is 5 arc-minute grid cells (about 10 km).Therefore, there are high uncertainties in the input data.


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