New ”Baseline Study Report”, published by the University of Lincoln on behalf of SalFar

16 December 2020 - Published by Laila Dam
The aim of the report has been to develop essential baseline environmental information, data and available knowledge to ensure a consistent integration of methods, tools and information flows across work packages in the project and to ascertain the scope for the development of salt-tolerant agriculture.

The report includes the following three sections:

  • An assessment of the economic impacts of salinity-induced land degradation and adaptation options
  • A survey of relevant EU agri-environment policies and the development of an indicator framework.
  • An inventory of the extent and severity of salinity-induced land degradation in the North Sea region (NSR), including the production of “salinization maps”, to inform the scope for implementing innovations in salt tolerant and saline agriculture.

Below, a brief summary of the key messages of the three sections is provided.

Economic impacts of salinization

Soil Salinization is a significant constraint to agricultural production globally. Furthermore, projected changes associated with climate change are likely to exacerbate the risks associated with salinization which has implications for global food security. A review of studies on salinity impacts show that salinity intrusion costs range from € 577 – 610 million per year in Europe and are projected to significantly increase with sea-level rise and over time.

Detailed case studies conducted in Europe as part of the SalFar project show that the magnitude of the economic impact of salinization critically depend on a range of factors which include: the type of salinization or the process that causes salinization (i.e. irrigation, seepage, flood salinization and aerosol salinization), the degree/severity of salinity, the types (and value) of crops grown, farm level decisions such as the use of salt tolerant crops and other adaptation mechanisms as well as external shocks such as sea level rise due to climate change. For example, for irrigation salinization at the farm level, relative yields range from 64% (barley) to 80% (potatoes), indicating that potatoes are comparatively more salt tolerant.

Comparing yield and financial penalties across the North Sea Region (NSR), the yield losses for potato ranged from 6.2 tons/ha (Sweden) to 8.3 tons/ha (UK) and financial loses ranged from € 1478 per ha (Netherlands) to € 2259 per ha (Denmark). At the regional level, results suggest that flooding salinization potentially has the greatest economic impact (compared to other types of salinization), for example, amounting to approximately € 115 million in GVA (Gross Value added) losses in the Lincolnshire, UK. Saline agriculture, as an adaptation strategy, has the potential to ameliorate some economic impacts of salinization. However, there is an urgent need to strengthen systems and mechanisms for monitoring soil salinity and associated risks.

Download the full report on the economic impacts of salinity induced soil degradation here

Review of policy framework

A policy review was carried out at EU and national level to identify the policy framework with regards to saline farming in the North Sea region (NSR) partner countries of the SalFar project. Thirdly, a review of policies and regulatory plans in the respective coastal areas was carried out to clarify the entry points for saline farming in the future. The policy review at EU and national level resulted in the following policy framework:

  • The EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the Norwegian Agricultural Policy
  • The Soils Directive (part of the 7th EU Environment Action Programme)
  • The Water Directive
  • The Floods Directive
  • Integrated Coastal Management and Natura 2000 (Birds and Habitat Directive)
  • The 7th Environment Action Programme (EAP)
  • Climate Adaptation Strategies and Plans

Regional and local regulatory plans and policies related to agriculture, water management, coastal protection, nature conservation and climate adaptation action plans correspond to these policies though with important regional differences. The policies at EU and national level and regulatory frameworks at the regional level do not mention saline farming, but recognize an increasing problem of salinization in NSR coastal areas related to climate changes and sea level rise.

The entry points for saline farming in policies in the future is through local regulatory plans, integrated coastal management (ecosystem-based), policies related to climate adaptation and agricultural advisory. Saline farming in the NSR is not being developed as a solution in the adaptation to climate changes and sea level rise in coastal areas. The rethinking and development of an innovative agricultural approach is still at an early stage and the baseline study shows that it will take more research-based evidence before a saline farming policy can be developed and accepted as a solution in partner countries’ agricultural policies. In each country integrated coastal management plays a key role in spatial planning along the coast, in close collaboration with water management authorities.

The climate changes have brought new challenges, and new research is shared by water management authorities and researchers in meterological and climate institutes with local authorities to act upon these changes. This is where saline farming may become one of the climate adaptation options when agricultural land is affected by salt water intrusion or coastal floods. Water managers and agricultural advisors play a significant role in the integration of saline farming projects, including agri-environmental policies. The relative complexity of the policies and regulatory framework in each region and the stakeholders and researchers to be consulted should not be understated.

Mapping Salinization across the NSR

The extend of salinization processes were explored for each of the countries surrounding the North Sea by looking at any established maps of salinization and salinity risks. Our findings show that the potential threat of salinization across the North Sea is very diverse, with the risks varying considerably between countries. We found an overall lack of data, both of water monitoring and soil sampling, on salinity in the region. This is not surprising, given that salinization is historically of limited extent in the region. However, in the face of future climate projections we anticipate salinization to have much greater impact on the region. In order for agricultural systems in the region to adapt, more extensive mapping and monitoring of salinization needs to be conducted.

Download the full report on Mapping salinization intensity and risks in the North Sea Region here.