Responsible partner: »Estonian University of Life Sciences, Institute of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (IAES)

1. Geographical description

Estonia is situated north-east of Europe located between 57°30′34″N to 59°49′12″N and from 21°45′ 49″E to 28°12′44″E. It is bounded on the north by the Gulf of Finland (an inlet of the Baltic Sea), on the east by Russia, on the south by Latvia, and on the west by the Baltic Sea (Figure 16). The mean air temperature in Estonia is +4.5–6.0°C, mean annual precipitation 600–700 mm and the vegetative period generally lasts for 170–185 days. The climate is Nemorial to Boreal. The amount of precipitation is more than two times higher than evapotranspiration. Snow cover is characterized by large spatial and temporal variations (75-135 days: from the beginning of January to the end of March). Estonian climatic conditions are favourable for mobilization of humus intensive biological weathering and turnover of substances in the plant–soil system.

SS10 1 SS10 2

2. Main farming systems and typical agricultural management activities in the study area

According to the FADN report (2012), on average 39% of the utilized agricultural area was under forage crops, 37% was used for the production of cereals, 10% was occupied by oilseed crops and 4% by other field crops, while 10% of the total land use was left fallow (Figure 17). More intensively managed farms can be found in Central Estonia (dairy and cereal) and alternative and organic farms can be found more on the west coast of Estonia and the Islands. There are mainly mixed types of farms in the study area, where the main income comes from animal husbandry and crop production. However, dairy farming or crop production specialized farms dominate, which can be both organically and intensively managed, are evident as well. Grasslands are mainly fertilized with slurry and mineral fertilizers in big farms and not fertilized at all in some small farms. The cutting intensity is on average 3 cuts per season. Crop rotations are based mainly on cereals (spring- and winter wheat, barley, oat), oil rape and red clover timothy mixture. Soil tillage is a mixture of conventional plough and reduced chisel-based; precision agriculture techniques are used.

3. Characteristic soils and soil quality monitoring practice

The soils are highly variable and are impacted by their parent material, texture, water regime and types. In Central and Southern Estonia where the study area is located, the main soil types are Luvisols with variable texture and calcareousness (Reintam et al., 2001). Grasslands are locating mainly on gleyic soils and Gleysols. The dominant soil texture is sandy loam.

There are 30 permanent agricultural soil survey points in Estonia, where the following measures are repeated at 5 yearly intervals:

  1. From the humus horizon: depth (cm), pHKCl, P, K, Ca, Mg, Cu, Mn, B (mg/kg), humus (%), C-org by Dumas (dry combustion), dry bulk density (g/cm3) and porosity (pF1.8), estimation of compactness.
  2. From the soil pits: horizons, their thickness (depth, cm), pHKCl, P, K, Ca, Mg, Cu, Mn, B (mg/kg), total-N (%), humus (%), C-org Dumas method (dry combustion), texture.

From 5 to 6 survey points per year, pesticide residues, heavy metals (Cd, Pb, Cr, Cu, Hg, Ni, Zn) and soil biota (earthworms abundance, mass, species; microbial mass and respiration) are surveyed.

Agrochemical (main nutrients, pH) assessment of soil takes place on ca. 100 000 ha per year in Estonia and samples analyses are ordered and paid for by farmers.

4. Ongoing research and innovation actions on soil improvement and monitoring

Current applied research in agriculture (financed by Estonian Ministry of Agriculture) in Estonia include:

  1. Conventional and organic management effect on soil fertility;
  2. Effect of intensity of tillage on slurry fertilized soils;
  3. Green manure plants effect on soil in conventional and organic farming;
  4. Alternative fertilisers use in conventional and organic farming;
  5. Use of soil map applications in agriculture;
  6. Bio waste compost use in agriculture;
  7. Development of humus balance model;
  8. Implementation of soil maps and databases for sustainable land use and agricultural production;
  9. Optimized habitat specific fertilization with plant nutrients according to the environment sensitivity by implementing electronic soil databases.

Since 2008, the soil compaction survey restarted in Estonia on 15 fields (repeated in 2013), where the typical parameters such as bulk density and texture, and the content of air filled pores at pF1.8 was measured.

5. Stakeholders included in the iSQAPER research programme

  • Abja Farm PLC – dairy farming, field crop husbandry
  • United Farms JSC – dairy farming, field crop husbandry
  • Tartu Agro JSC – dairy farming, field crop husbandry.
  • Haage Agro PLC – dairy farming, field crop husbandry

 

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