Soil quality

QUALI-SOL project: Characterisation of the biological quality of farm soils in the Wallonia Region

The quality of a soil can in general terms be defined as its capacity to perform the various functions or "services" expected of it:

  • ensure animal and plant productivity (fertility);
  • act in preserving the environment (role as filter, purifier);
  • guarantee that the living organisms are maintained.

And so the majority of the soil functions are performed (in)directly by the microorganisms that it shelters:

  • nutrients are made available for the plants;
  • organic matter is broken down and reorganised;
  • pollutants are decomposed, etc.

In order to assess the quality of the soils, it is therefore appropriate to investigate the dynamics and activity of the microbial populations using a sensitive and suitable tool.

This project aims to assess the quality of the farm soils in Wallonia against two main criteria:

  • by studying the genetic diversity of the microorganisms of the soil;
  • by studying their biochemical activity.

A very specific distinction is also made between soils used for conventional agriculture and soils managed organically.

The way in which the soil is worked, with or without labour, is also examined. In order to most closely replicate real conditions, plots of land are examined directly with the farmers. Different test areas are also studied in order to assess the potential effects of working the soil, or the effects of pesticides on the microbial flora.
This project therefore consists of the characterisation of farm soils subjected to a variety of crop management techniques.

Ultimately, such an approach should enable us to clearly identify the cultivation practices that best respect the equilibriums of the "soil-microorganisms-plants" system.
It will thus contribute:

  • to the better management of soil by farms;
  • to preventing soil erosion;
  • to suggesting ways in which it can recover.

The techniques developed in this project could also be transposed to studying other types of soil, particularly industrial or polluted areas.

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