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Soil research challenges in response to emerging agricultural soil management practices

Agricultural management is a key force affecting soil processes and functions. Triggered by biophysical constraints as well as rapid structural and technological developments, new management practices are emerging with largely unknown impacts on soil processes and functions. This impedes assessments of the potential of such emerging practices for sustainable intensification, a paradigm coined to address the growing demand for food and nonfood products. In terms of soil management, sustainable intensification means that soil productivity is increased while other soil functions and services, such as carbon storage and habitat for organisms, are simultaneously maintained or even improved. In this paper we provide an overview of research challenges to better understand how emerging soil management practices affect soil processes and functions. We distinguish four categories of soil management practices: spatial arrangements of cropping systems, crops and rotations, mechanical pressures, and inputs into the soil. Key research needs identified for each include nutrient efficiency in agroforestry versus conventional cropping systems, soil-rhizosphere microbiome elucidation to understand the interacting roles of crops and rotations, the effects of soil compaction on soil–plant–atmosphere interactions, and the ecotoxicity of plastics, pharmaceuticals and other pollutants that are introduced into the soil. We establish an interdisciplinary, systemic approach to soil science and include cross-cutting research activities related to process modeling, data management, stakeholder interaction, sustainability assessment and governance. The identification of soil research challenges from the perspective of agricultural management facilitates cooperation between different scientific disciplines in the field of sustainable agricultural production.

Techen, A.-K.; Helming, K.; Brüggemann, N.; Veldkamp, E.; Reinhold-Hurek, B.; Lorenz, M.; Bartke, S.; Heinrich, U.; Amelung, W.; Augustin, K.; Boy, J.; Corre, M.; Duttman, R.; Gebbers, R.; Gentsch, N.; Grosch, R.; Guggenberger, G.; Kern, J.; Kiese, R.; Kuhwald, M.; Leinweber, P.; Schloter, A.; Wiesmeier, M.; Winkelmann, T.; Vogel, H.-J. (2020). Soil research challenges in response to emerging agricultural soil management practices. Advances in Agronomy, 161, 179-240;