Development of a methodological approach to soil health in key agricultural systems in the EU and China

Once again we would like to present you with a new research paper developed by some members of our NOVASOIL consortium, this time Dimitre Nikolov and Ekatherina Tzvetanova.

The article focuses on addressing the problem of soil health in agriculture through a specific methodological approach, as it is one of the most important problems we face, as it affects both the environment, future food availability and human health.

The authors are aware that there is a wide typology of farms and that they face constraints depending on their resources and/or choices. This fact makes it necessary to identify typologies before assessing the opportunities and constraints faced by farmers. This would allow a more intelligent decision making, avoiding subjectivities.

Therefore, the main objective of this research was to develop a methodological approach for the creation of such farm typologies in relation to soil health in tree crops and cereal-grassland rotations in the European Union.

This research was carried out as part of the project Transforming unsustainable management of soils in key agricultural systems in the EU and China. Developing an integrated platform of alternatives to reverse soil degradation” (TUdi).

How the data were collected

A data collection procedure was used as a starting point:

  • General information: This part collects descriptive information on the socio-economic characteristics of each farm, such as the age, sex and education of the manager. It also collects information on the main characteristics of the farm, such as the type of farming, the farming system, the structure of the cropping system, the total area managed by the farmer, whether it has livestock or irrigation, etc.
  • Awareness of soil health: This section focuses on the level of identification of soil health problems, information on soil quality and its application in farm management, and tools currently used to support soil health management. It is assessed by 12 questions covering whether farmers recognise soil health as a problem, what soil problems are identified on the farm, whether farmers have sufficient information on soil quality parameters, whether they use this information to make soil management decisions, whether they use central/national databases of soil analytical parameters and digital maps, whether they analyse and record qualitative soil data, whether they use precision farming, where they get the information from and how they use it in farm management, and whether they implement a nutrient management plan.
  • Technology adoption: This part assesses the level of on-farm technology adoption, including experience, attitudes and access to technology. Variables related to on-farm technology implementation are analysed, such as the level of farmers’ awareness and knowledge of environmental issues, the level of political will to support farmers’ provision of environmental goods and services, the level of secure supply chain and demand for agricultural products, and the level of on-farm technology implementation, such as the use of information and communication technologies (ICT), the adoption of sustainable farming practices, the implementation of environmental management systems, the adoption of precision farming practices, among others.

Statistical analysis

Statistical processing of the previously collected information was then carried out using principal component and cluster analysis.


Principal component analysis takes all the variables and combines them in a special way to get a few principal variables that capture most of the important information. This helps us to reduce the dimensionality of the data and make it easier to visualise or interpret.
On the other hand, cluster analysis is a technique that allows us to group similar objects or cases according to their characteristics. Suppose you have information about different products and you want to find groups of similar products. Cluster analysis helps you to identify which products are most similar to each other and to form groups based on these similarities.


We find this article interesting and useful for any farmer or decision-maker because it addresses a critical issue in agriculture: soil degradation; because soil health is fundamental to sustainable agricultural production and food security; and because soil degradation can have serious economic, social and environmental consequences.

The methodological approach described in the article enables both farmers and decision-makers to better understand soil health on their farms and to take action to address soil degradation. The farm typology developed in the study can help farmers to identify the specific characteristics of their farm in terms of soil health and to take action to improve it.

In addition, the article presents a practical methodology that allows farmers to determine the type of their farm according to the typology developed. This can help farmers make informed decisions about soil management and improve the sustainability of their farming practices.

You can download the article by clicking here.

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