Is Europe running out of land?

That is the question Teagasc Director Professor Gerry Boyle posed at the recent launch of a new research project for sustainable land management.

“Last autumn, the UN revised its projections for population growth. The world’s population is no longer expected to stabilise after 2050, instead it is now expected to continue to grow and approach 11 billion people by 2100.

“These new figures will certainly fuel the debate whether the world, including Europe, is ‘running out of land’,” he said.

The number of mouths to feed from each parcel of land continues to rise. But the ecological footprint that we can afford ourselves continues to shrink.

The new research project entitled ‘Landmark’ is a consortium of European researchers and advisors that will seek to unearth practices and policy pathways that make the most of Europe’s rich and diverse heritage of soils, which are key to so many ecosystem services, Teagasc says.

The aim of Landmark is to open up the soils of Europe and assess farm practices and policies that optimise the delivery of food and other ecosystem services, it says.

Teagasc says that since both the European food system and ecosystems do not recognise borders, Landmark has taken an international approach.

It will bring together all the knowledge on land management from European farmers, advisors, scientists and policy makers, it says.

By 2020, Landmark aims to produce three outcomes:
  • For farmers: a soil navigator that provides advice on the sustainable management of soils on ‘my farm’.
  • For legislators: a framework for monitoring of soil quality and soil functions that is applicable across Europe.
  • For policy makers: an assessment of policies that can ensure that we ‘make the most of our land’, from both an agronomic and environmental point of view.

Landmark Co-ordinator Dr. Rachel Creamer from Teagasc said that not only do we expect Europe’s agricultural land to provide a nutritious diet for all; we also expect it to provide clean water, to store carbon, recycle our waste and provide a home for biodiversity.

“These competing demands have now brought soil science sharply back into focus. If we are to make the most of our land, we need to understand the ‘engine room’ of agriculture in all its diversity,” she said.

The Pan-European project was launched recently in Castledockrell, Co. Wexford by Minister of State for Skills, Research and Innovation Damien English.

Landmark receives €5m in European funding from the European Commission as part of its Horizon 2020 Research Programme.