EIT (European Institute of Innovation & Technology) is a body of the EU, working to drive innovation in business, education and research across Europe. We’re proud to be supporting EIT Food with Soilmentor, on one of their projects monitoring the impact of regenerative farming on soil health.
EIT Food has created the Regenerative Agriculture Revolution project, aiming to support farmers to learn how to transition to more sustainable methods of farming. This began with a focus on the Mediterranean, as farmers in this region have been disproportionately affected by climate change, and conventional agriculture practices have exacerbated soil degradation and erosion, water scarcity, biodiversity loss and low yields in these areas. These environmental issues, as well as high input costs, have left many farmers struggling for financial survival. Aiming to revert these trends, EIT Food is supporting Southern European farmers to introduce regenerative methods, while measuring ecosystem improvements and spreading public awareness about the benefits of these methods.
We are proud to have worked with the EIT Food team over the last year to create a bespoke soil monitoring protocol that is currently used across 75 farms in Spain and Portugal.
We recently caught up with Philip Fernandez, Agriculture Project Manager at EIT Food, for the first part of a case study to learn more about EIT, and how they use Soilmentor.
EIT soil testing under ovine observation
Could you describe the project you are using Soilmentor to support?
Soilmentor is key to the project we’ve been developing at EIT, which is looking at how regenerative agriculture practices impact soil health. We’re advising and supporting 75 farmers currently, all of whom are being advised by regenerative agriculture experts. We need Soilmentor as a tool to allow us to monitor and record environmental and soil health improvements on these farms.
Soilmentor is key to us for three reasons:
- First and foremost, it’s a tool that helps farmers appreciate the importance of the soil in regenerative agriculture. This is a big mindset change – instead of focusing solely on crops and what goes on above the ground, it helps them to realise and appreciate what is going on below our feet, and to focus on what they can do to improve soil health.
- It’s also key for agronomists advising the farmers – another tool (in addition to physical, chemical and soil lab analysis) that they have to monitor progress. As it’s cheaper to use, and farmers can use it themselves, it gives a broader picture of the farm. Our EIT Food budget allows us to send one soil sample to the lab per year, per farm. Obviously these are diversified farms with different plots, so Soilmentor helps us to track progress on different plots on the same farm. This is especially important because by definition regenerative agriculture involves diversity – so we can’t treat a farm as just one soil sample.
- Third, at the level of EIT Food, Soilmentor helps to see if we are meeting our objective to make Europe’s food systems healthier and more sustainable. The tool also helps us to monitor whether what we are doing makes sense – whether the practice fits the theory, and to prove to EU tax payers that this is money well spent.
Soil testing with the EIT team
How does your project fit into the wider space that you’re seeing out there – and how are people responding to it?
In Southern Europe it’s a unique project. There are similar projects in other parts of the world, but it feels like we’re doing something that is pioneering and unique in Southern and Eastern Europe where we operate.
I know there have been scientific studies done with a similar focus, and we do not claim to be carrying out a scientific study, but we know this project will be valuable. We’re trying to connect regenerative practices to improvements in soil health on many different sizes and types of farmland and ecosystems.
It will be interesting to see if we can draw some valid conclusions – we’re not comparing side by side test plots, but if we can see across 75 farms, that in 60 there’s been a significant improvement in soil health and soil organic matter, I think that’s really valuable!
We’re aiming to build a community this year – there’s an enormous desire in these farmers who are transitioning to reach out and understand what other farmers are doing. Often regenerative farmers are viewed by their peers as ‘the crazy person in the village’, with messy fields and weeds everywhere. So they come to our training courses, and meet other farmers doing the same thing in different places. Emotionally this can be very supportive, and we’re keen on creating this community. Soilmentor also links to this with the new benchmarking function – even though it’s anonymous, it gives a sense that they are not alone, and it’s useful to be able to compare and look at how others are doing.
Who has been using the app so far, and why, and what did they think about it?
The main users have been the agronomists and soil experts so far. We’ve had a soil advisor travelling round to visit 65 farms across Spain and Portugal, conducting tests and using the same methodology and criteria for each, and adding all of this information to the Soilmentor app.
There’s a lot of data on the individual farm accounts already, and as soon as we fully launch we’ll have farmers using it with their own logins. We’re about to release videos to be available on Youtube, which we filmed to show how to do each of the tests. We’re going to translate these into Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and Polish.
EIT soil advisor Iris taking baseline measurements
What are you most excited about with this project right now?
We’re excited to see the potential of this tool. There have been two important milestones for us recently.
The first was when we finished collecting our baseline measurements across all of the farms, and our soil health expert had inputted this information into each of the Soilmentor accounts.
The second was when we started to look at all of this information, combining it with physical and chemical data from soil samples sent to the lab, and economic information we had for each of the farms, alongside visual soil assessments. Seeing all of these metrics in one place was really exciting for us.
EIT baseline soil tests – root legume nodules & rhizosheaths
What are the next steps? Is there anything else you would like to share?
The next step for us is getting these videos published, as well as collating information on each of the farm’s biomes and rainfall metrics so we can get started with using the Regen Platform benchmarking.
We’re also excited to plan a webinar for all the farmers, to explain how Soilmentor works, alongside learnings from physical and chemical analysis provided by a member of our team.
We’re really proud to be supporting this inspiring project, with such wide-reaching aims and impacts. We admire EIT’s genuine focus on supporting the farmers on the ground with this project. The individual farmers are, as Philip put it, EIT’s “key stakeholders”.
We’re excited to continue our collaboration with EIT, and to see how the farmers get on with using Soilmentor after the official launch. Watch this space… we’re planning on publishing a second part to this case study as the project develops further!