The EU mission "A Soil Deal for Europe" aims to declare 75% of European soils as healthy by 2030. This is in line with the European Green Deal, the EU Farm to Fork Strategy and the preparations for a new EU law to protect soil health.

Measuring the success of these European initiatives is proving to be an extremely important and complex task. One priority is the harmonisation, development, reporting and scaling of robust indicators to measure and change the state of soil health.

Project description

To address these challenges, BENCHMARKS is working with 29 European case studies and stakeholders to jointly develop and evaluate a transparent, harmonised and cost-effective monitoring framework at EU, national and local levels for agricultural, forestry and urban land use.

The potential of earth observation and digital technologies (including artificial intelligence) for soil monitoring will also be considered.

As part of the project, sampling will also be carried out for three consecutive years as part of our long-term field trial in Fuchsenbigl. In this long-term field trial, the effects of different tillage methods on arable soils and crops are analysed. The trial was set up in 1988 with a randomised block design with three replicates (plot size 720 m2) in which the following tillage methods were used: Conventional tillage, Reduced tillage and Minimum tillage.

As part of BENCHMARKS, the following data is collected from the arable soils in Fuchsenbigl:

  • Chemical soil data, such as pH, organic carbon (Corg), total nitrogen (Nt), plant-available nutrients (P, K), micronutrients (Cu, Mn, Zn), cation exchange capacity, etc.
  • Physical soil data, such as texture, bulk density, hydraulic soil properties, etc.
  • Biological soil data, such as determination of micro- and mesofauna, composition of the microbiome, nitrogen mineralisation, etc.

Based on the best science and technology, the aim is to provide a clear soil health index using indicators that are relevant to the assessment objective, applicable to the land use and logistically feasible.

In interactive workshops, the challenges and goals in agriculture were discussed with various interest groups and knowledge was exchanged. The aim is to include as many perspectives as possible in the development of an effective strategy to promote sustainable agriculture and improve soil health.

Benefits of the project

The main outcomes of the project are:

  • A harmonised and cost-effective framework for measuring soil health
  • An integrated soil health tool that shows the links between indicators, soil functions and ecosystem services
  • Scientific underpinning of incentive schemes to promote soil health for companies in the value chain

This contribution is particularly important with regard to the further development of LUCAS Soil and the Soil Health Dashboard as part of the European Soil Observatory.

Project details

Project title: Building a European Network for the Characterisation and Harmonisation of Monitoring Approaches for Research and Knowledge on Soils

Project acronym: BENCHMARKS

Project leader: Wageningen University

Project management AGES: Taru Sandén

Project partners: Climate Farmers, Commonland Foundation, Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II | CRISP, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas | CSIC, Direção Regional de Agricultura e Pescas do Centro | DrapC, Fundación Ersilia, B.V. Exploitatie Reservegronden Flevoland | ERF, Regeneration Academy, Grand Farm, L'Institut National de Recherche pour l'Agriculture, l'Alimentation et l'Environnement | INRAE, International Soil Reference and Information Centre | ISRIC, Jožef Stefan Institute | JSI, Natural Resources Institute Finland | LUKE, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research | NINA, Masarykova univerzita | RECETOX, Universidade de Coimbra, Wageningen University & Research, Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research | ZALF, CzechGlobe, Genesis (Greenback), AgroParisTech, Université de Lorraine, Earthwatch, Research Institute of Organic Agriculture | FiBL, Institute for Applied Plant Biology | IAP, UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre | UNEP-WCMC

Funding: Horizon Europe research and innovation programme. Grant Agreement: 101091010

Project duration: 01/2023 to 12/2027

Further information

BENCHMARKS project website:

BENCHMARKS Glossary: Glossary - Benchmarks (

AGES case study in Fuchsenbigl:

Last updated: 19.04.2024

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