Table 2. Integration of GHG-mitigating soil-management strategies in key EU legislation.

Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)† Climate and Renewable Energy Package (CARE)‡ Water Framework Directive (WFD)§
Crop management

-Optimizing crop rotations.
-Increasing energy efficiency by adopting high-yielding varieties.
-Replacing bare fallow with fallow crops.
-Introducing winter cover crops planted in late summer or autumn.

The CAP does not have specific provisions relating to crop rotations or crops but farm support is subject to cross compliance; land must be kept in “good agricultural and environmental condition” (GAEC). A key requirement is the completion of a Soil Protection Review, although this is not prescriptive in nature. From 2011, the obligation for farmers to leave 10% of their land as set-aside will be abolished.


Crop management in CARE is only related to bioenergy. The Sustainability Criteria for bioenergy production encourages appropriate crops be grown that have high yields and minimal impact on the environment. However, it does not address conflicts between land-use decisions or the overall availability of land vis-a-vis food production.

The WFD does not directly address crop management, although the promotion of low-water requiring crops is mentioned as a supplementary measure that member states could consider.
Nutrient management

-Reducing fertilizer inputs.
-Increasing fertilizer efficiency.

The EU Nitrates Directive is part of the cross-compliance criteria. Nutrient management is also covered (indirectly) in GAEC.

The sustainability criteria does not mention nutrient management specifically, and some studies (Dallamarta 2011) suggest that increased fertiliser use in some bioenergy crops delivers a net energy increase for biofuels.

Prescriptive provisions contained in WFD for “good ecological status” and “good chemical status” directly address nonpoint source pollution and nutrient management. However, implementation of WFD is poor.

Tillage and residue management

-“No tillage” and “reduced tillage” practices.
-Retention of crop residues.

No specific provisions, but would be a key factor in achieving GAEC.

There is a potential clash between the CARE Package’s focus on bioenergy, which uses crop residues, and the potential retention of crop residues in the soil to increase the organic content of the soil.


WFD does not address tillage and residue management, even though both would result in greater water-use efficiency.
Water management

-Increase irrigation efficiency.
-Promote deficient irrigation schemes.
-Crop diversification.

The WFD is currently not part of the cross-compliance criteria, although it is expected to be included shortly. Nevertheless, member states are slow to implement WFD.

The production of biomass for bioenergy is devastating in some water-scarce regions (Dallamarta 2011), as the use of otherwise set-aside land, and the choice of water-intensive crops, proves overwhelming for water supplies. Sustainability criteria for bioenergy addresses these conflicts, but there are no explicit options put forward, i.e., mandatory requirements for efficient irrigation schemes.

A key element of the WFD is that water-resource management should be undertaken at the river basin level, and that all member states must provide River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs) to the EU. Implementation is poor. There is no specific provision in the WFD relating to irrigation efficiency, or crop diversification.

Soil restoration of organic soils and degraded lands
Yes, but weak.

Requirements for GAEC to be defined by the member states, covering: protection of soil from erosion, maintenance of soil organic matter, maintenance of soil structure, and maintenance and avoidance of deterioration of habitats. The level of stringency and implementation varies markedly between member states and the EU regulation has been described as “broad brush.”

The main threat to soil restoration from the CARE package comes from the 10% target for “biofuels,” which could have direct and indirect negative effects on soil condition and functionality. The sustainability criteria for biofuels, which is not binding, includes a general prohibition on the use of biomass from land converted from forest, other high carbon-stock areas, and highly biodiverse areas. It is up to the member states to ascertain which land this refers to.

The link between soil quality and functionality, and water, is positive: higher soil quality means greater water retention and more efficient use of water by plants. Given this link, the WFD could usefully add “good soil status” as one of its key objectives.

-Appropriate crop choice.
-Appropriate choice of land.

The CAP does not address soil-management strategies in relation to bioenergy production.

At least 10% of transport fuel must be renewable. Sustainability criteria, which include: 1) prohibition on the use of biomass from land converted from forest, other high carbon-stock areas, and highly biodiverse areas, 2) a common GHG-calculation methodology to ensure that minimum greenhouse gas savings from biomass are at least 35%, 3) the differentiation of national support schemes in favor of installations that achieve high energy-conversion efficiencies, and 4) monitoring of the origin of biomass.

The WFD does not explicitly mention bioenergy or crop choice because it is largely designed to set parameters around water quality, and it is up to the individual member states to decide which activities should be managed, through the River Basin Management Plans.
†(European Council 1991, 2005a,b, 2009b)
‡(European Community 2001, 2003, European Council 2009c, European Commission 2010b)
§(European Community 2000)