Baltic Sea Action Group is organizing a breakfast seminar in EU parliament on 27th November in co-operation with MEP Anneli Jäätteenmäki (ALDE) and MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen (EPP). The theme of the breakfast seminar is to discuss and learn about the importance of healthy soil in mitigating climate change, securing clean water and building resilience in food production.
During the seminar, the ability of soils to store carbon will be explained with fresh examples from research and actual agricultural fields. The discussion aims at introducing ways to enhance the adaptation of scientifically proven soil health building and carbon storing practices in the EU-level.
The speakers are:
Anneli Jäätteenmäki, MEP, ALDE
Sirpa Pietikäinen, MEP, EPP
Josiane Masson, Policy Officer on soils, European Commission, DG Environment
Nicola Di Virgilio, Policy Analyst, European Commission, DG Agriculture and Rural Development
Jari Liski, Research Professor, Finnish meteorological institute
Laura Höijer, Content Director, Baltic Sea Action Group
Nearly all of the 110 carbon farmers have now completed the first part of the carbon farming training. The second class of carbon farmers gathered in Siikaniemi course centre in Lahti for a two-day session in early November. The day-time agenda was packed with information. In addition to learning about measures that facilitate carbon sequestration, the farmers got an understanding of soil microbiology, healthy and fertile soils, grazing, and climate change. The participants also got to enjoy good food, good conversation and an evening of relaxed networking.
There was excitement in the air. Many farmers said they were happy to see that they were part of a large group of farmers with similar ambitions. In addition to increasing the profitability of their farms, many farmers participate in the Carbon Action pilot project because they want to contribute to the mitigation of climate change. Farmers have often been blamed causing environmental degradation, but through carbon farming farmers can not only produce food in a sustainable way but also have a positive effect on the environment. Carbon farming benefits the soil, the climate and the Baltic Sea.7
Research professor Jari Liski, from the Finnish Meteorological Institute gave the first talk of the two-day seminar. Professor Liski spoke about the risks that climate change pose for the planet and life on it. It’s important to understand the mechanisms behind carbon sequestration in the soil so that we can, through the right farming techniques, capture as much carbon as possible from the atmosphere and store it in arable land. According to Tuomas Mattila, a researcher and farmer who also taught at the event, the most important considerations regarding carbon sequestration are maximizing the photosynthesis, nurturing microbial activity in the soil and getting the sequestered carbon to stay in the soil.
The one hundred farms participating in the Carbon Action pilot produce invaluable information for the researchers about farming practices and the measures that promote carbon sequestration. The carbon farmers also have to take a leap into the unknown, as they might be the first ones to carry out certain measures on their fields.
The Carbon Action pilot continues its work, together with a large group of excited farmers. In the spring of 2019 the concrete work will begin as the farmers start carrying out the measures determined by their selected carbon path. The different carbon paths include different measures which are aimed at increasing the carbon storing capacities of the soil.
The Carbon Action pilot is a project in which BSAG, the Finnish Meteorological Institute and Sitra co-operate. BSAG is responsible for the big picture and the co-operation with and the training of the farmers, the Meteorological Institute is responsible for the research of carbon sequestration and coordinating the research work with other actors, while Sitra provides the funding for the first two years.
Baltic Sea Action Group has launched their annual christmas campaign. This year the campaign focuses on the poor oxygen conditions at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. BSAG’s christmas campaign offers companies a chance to donate money to save the Baltic Sea, instead of spending it on material items.
The campaign includes videos in which BSAG’s founders Ilkka Herlin and Saara Kankaanrinta, former U.S. Ambassador to Finland Bruce Oreck, and actor Tommi Korpela dove underwater to hold their breath for the Baltic Sea. The dramatic videos highlight the suffocating conditions at the oxygen-depleted sea floor. Getting Tommi Korpela and Bruce Oreck to participate in the campaign was exciting. It also fits BSAG’s operations model, which emphasizes collaboration between all sectors of society, from artists to economic and political actors.
”The Baltic Sea still suffers from eutrophication, and climate change carries new threats. Although the Baltic Sea’s condition is serious, and the campaign videos are bleak in tone, the donors can feel happy about fighting for a good cause. Work for the Baltic Sea benefits both the sea’s unique biota, and all of us who appreciate the sea”, says BSAG’s Managing Director Johan Schmidt.
The Baltic Sea is in a poor condition, and large areas at the sea bottom are almost completely depleted of oxygen. Nutrient loads from land cause eutrophication, and decomposing the masses of algae consumes a lot of oxygen. Apart from microbes, there is not much life in these hypoxic areas. Lack of oxygen also causes old nutrients to leak from the bottom sediments, which fuels eutrophication further.
Companies who donate to the christmas campaign get visibility on the campaign site, as well as materials to communicate about their donation e.g. in social media and e-mails. The amount of visibility and materials depends on the size of the donation. All donors are also welcome to participate in a Baltic Sea themed event, organized in Löyly restaurant in the beginning of next year.
BSAG had plenty of pro bono help in making the campaign. Campaign visuals were created by Taivas and the campaign site was built by J+CO. The campaign videos were shot in collaboration with Duotone and Valofirma, and the location was provided by Genesta Finland.
A new Interreg project platform was launched in Helsinki 23 – 24 October. Project Platform SuMaNu will combine results from four projects in order to pave the way to sustainable manure and nutrient management for reduction of nutrient loss in the Baltic Sea region. More sustainable nutrient management in agriculture is beneficial for the environment and for the farmer – and thus, the only way to secure sustainable food production in the future.
From acidification to data and organic fertilisers
The platform will gather and synthesize the best practices and recommendations on sustainable nutrient management from four projects:
Baltic Slurry Acidification aims to reduce ammonia emissions from livestock production by promoting slurry acidification technologies. Manure Standards develops joint guidelines for more efficient collection and usage of manure data. GreenAgri aims at reducing nutrient losses in the Baltic States by introducing and testing environmentally-friendly management of organic fertilizers. BONUS PROMISE evaluated methods to close the agricultural phosphorus cycle with a special view on contamination risks when recycling the organic waste materials. Also, the findings of previous projects, such as Baltic Manure, Baltic Compass and Baltic Compact will be considered.
SuMaNu will build upon the results of previous manure-related projects, to provide holistic recommendations on nutrient and manure management, to ensure they are useful for both policy making and at the farm level.
The Finnish alcoholic beverage company Altia renews its commitment to the Baltic Sea Action Group. Altia’s selected contract farmers will partake in the Carbon Action pilot project, which is a joint project between Baltic Sea Action Group, the Finnish Meteorological Institute, and Sitra. Carbon Action works in collaboration with farmers to study soil’s capacity to sequester and store carbon from the atmosphere, which is currently the only known way to reverse climate change. In addition to storing carbon, healthy soil is also able to retain nutrients, which reduces nutrient loads to the Baltic Sea.
”We are happy to continue our collaboration with Altia in the form of the new commitment. Participation in the Carbon Action pilot project is a logical continuation to Altia’s previous commitment, and it will undoubtedly benefit the contract farmers as well as the climate and the Baltic Sea”, says BSAG’s managing director Johan Schmidt.
In the new commitment Altia’s selected contract farmers will assign a section from their fields to use as a Carbon Action test plot for the next five years. Altia will cover the costs of soil sampling. Altia will also inform their contract farmers of the findings of the project, such as sustainable and carbon sequestering farming methods.
“It is important to find such technical growing solutions and possibilities that can be applied on a large scale, so that soil fertility can be maintained and improved. It is truly wonderful to be able to study this together with our contract farmers and the Baltic Sea Action Group as part of the Carbon Action pilot, says Altia’s Category Sourcing Manager Kari Kiltilä.
Altia operates in Nordic countries, Estonia and Latvia. Altia’s collaboration with BSAG began in 2015, and their previous commitment ended at the end of 2017. It consisted of measures to reduce water consumption, and encouraging contract farmers to adopt sustainable farming practices.
Baltic Sea Action Group organized the first Course to Save Our Soils 14th-16th of August at Qvidja farm in Pargas. The course was funded by the Finnish Ministry of Environment, and participants for these three day-long courses were invited by BSAG. The goal was to illustrate the importance of soil health, and soil’s role in protecting the Baltic Sea and fighting against climate change. Healthy soil retains nutrients, and is able to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Storing carbon permanently into soil is the only known method to reverse climate change.
Biodiversity as a goal and a tool
Biodiversity was one of the course’s recurrent themes. Course participants were likewise diverse; gathered in Qvidja were journalists, politicians, active citizens, and artists. Problems like climate change affect everyone, which is why a wide arrangement of people and know-how is needed to solve the problem.
BSAG’s founder and Chair of the Board Saara Kankaanrinta introduced the participants to the biggest threats currently facing the earth, as well as soil’s role in fighting against them. Current farming practices rely heavily upon monocultures, the use of inorganic fertilizers and pesticides, and intensive tillage. The scale of industrial meat production is also massive. Both intensive farming and industrial meat production diminish biodiversity, increase erosion, cause eutrophication, and in many countries is done using unethical slave labor. Additionally, degraded farm lands release carbon instead of storing it, thus accelerating climate change. All these issues are linked and fuel each other.
”Microbes are an example of nature’s own product development, which has been going on for billions of years. However, humans are disturbing nature’s processes with our own unsustainable actions. Diverse ecosystems are resistant, and healthy soil with a diverse microflora is able to mitigate climate change by sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. Biodiversity is thus not only the goal, but also a tool to address environmental issues. The farmer can be the important player in solving these problems”, said Kankaanrinta.
BSAG’s other founder, Ilkka Herlin led the participants to the past. War technology and intensive farming have a somewhat shared history. Wars and soil degradation are related phenomena also today, as the violent conflicts in Syria originally began because of soil deterioration.
The big picture of nature’s complicated processes began to blur in the 19th century, as it became possible to study certain aspects of agriculture in laboratories. Laboratories were also the birthplaces for the first inorganic nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides, both of which were part of the war industry in the 20th century.
As Finland was struck with multiple food crises, aid systems to agriculture were established to ensure food security and self-sufficiency. The manufacturing and social conditions have since changed but the aid systems have stayed the same.
”Our food production would be on a more solid footing if it was built around healthy soil, nutrient cycling, and biological nitrogen fixation. We have a moral obligation to try and change the prevailing practices”, Herlin asserted.
Multisensory approach to soil
Later the participants got to visit Qvidja’s fields, where they studied the differences between fertile and unhealthy soil as instructed by agronomist Juuso Joona. Healthy soil is filled with microbes. Plants grow well in this type of soil, and their roots together with substances excreted by microbes bind the soil particles together. This prevents even heavy rains from washing the soil and its nutrients away from the fields. Healthy soil also retains large amounts of water, protecting the crops from drought. Degraded soil on the other hand does not have much microbes, and is easily washed out by rain.
”Healthy soil is achieved by maximizing the soil’s microflora and plants’ photosynthesis with permanent vegetative cover, and minimizing tilling. It’s wiser to imitate nature rather than to fight against it”, Joona stated.
Participants also got to investigate microbes through a microscope, while Ansa Palojärvi told them about the importance of different types of soil microbes. Especially important are the types of fungi that establish symbiotic associations with plants’ roots. The plant gives them carbohydrates and in exchange the fungus increases the roots’ capacity to absorb water and nutrients. Other plants form symbiotic associations with nitrogen fixing bacteria. This so called biological nitrogen fixation diminishes the need for inorganic nitrogen fertilizers, and is one of the most important ecosystem services provided by soil microbes. Decomposers are also a very important group of soil microbes, as they release nutrients from dead organic matter.
”All plants are not able to form symbiotic associations. For these types of plants it’s especially important to live in a diverse environment”, told Palojärvi.
At the end of the day the participants got a glimpse of the Carbon Action pilot project, created in collaboration between BSAG, the Finnish Meteorological Institute, and Sitra. Qvidja’s fields partake in the project studying carbon sequestration from atmosphere into soil. The participants got to see some of the measuring equipment used to determine the carbon flux between Qvidja’s fields and the surrounding atmosphere.
All three course days ran smoothly, and received praise from the patricipants. Course to Save Our Soils had ”exceeded expectations, which were already high”. The next step is a fourth course day organized in Brussels later in the fall.
The course to save our soils is funded by the Finnish government’s key project funds.
The Baltic Sea Action Group organizes a Course to Save Our Soils, aimed at selected Finnish decision makers and held 14.-16. of August at Qvidja farm in Pargas. The course consists of lectures and firsthand lessons in the field, teaching the participants about the importance of healthy soil. A fourth course day will be held in Brussels later in the fall.
Healthy soil is the cornerstone of food security. In addition, it can sequester carbon from the atmosphere and retain nutrients. This is why soil plays an important part in the fight against climate change and eutrophication of the Baltic Sea. Soil is also home to an exceptionally diverse biota, which is responsible for providing the aforementioned ecosystem services.
”The Course to Save Our Soils highlights the significance of healthy soil both in the work against climate change and in the work for the Baltic Sea. The time to act is now, as soils are degrading at an alarming rate around the world”, says BSAG’s Chair of the Board Saara Kankaanrinta.
Current farming practices often favour monocultures, the use of inorganic fertilizers and pesticides, and intensive tillage. Inorganic fertilizers speed up the growth of plants but in the long run the soil deteriorates as its micro-organisms die. Unhealthy soil is not able to retain nutrients properly, and as a result nutrients leak into waterways and cause eutrophication. In addition, inorganic fertilizer industry relies on the use of fossile fuels and other nonrenewable resources.
”Actions done on land have an effect on the sea. By improving soil health we can also mitigate climate change, which is also one of the Baltic Sea’s biggest threats”, says Kankaanrinta.
Healthy soil can sequester carbon through plants’ photosynthesis and microbes. Storing carbon permanently into the soil is the only known way to reverse climate change. Agricultural practices should aim at improving soil condition. A living, biologically active soil sequesters carbon and retains nutrients, keeping them in the fields where they are needed.
”The collaboration between soil’s microbes and plants works best if we don’t weaken the ecosystem by monotonous land use. Both farming and forestry should favour a permanet vegetative cover, deep rooted plants, and polyculture in crops and crop rotation. Instead of a continuous conflict, we should work in harmony with nature”, states Kankaanrinta.
The course to save our soils is funded by the Finnish government’s key project funds.
Johan Schmidt and Laura Höijer have been selected as successors for BSAG’s Secretary General Mathias Bergman. The search began in March and provided approximately 40 high-profile applications. After long deliberation the foundation’s board made an unconventional decision by choosing two applicants with complementary expertise.
”It’s unusual to choose two applicants instead of one, but BSAG has never been afraid to do things differently when needed. Saving the Baltic Sea is an ambitious goal and we have no time to waste. This is also why it was sensible to hire two top experts. The applications also proved that the Baltic Sea is important and BSAG’s work to save it is seen as valuable”, says the chair of the board Saara Kankaanrinta.
Johan Schmidt has previously led the unit for business development in Nokia, worked as a CEO for a large firm of solicitors, and written two novels. He starts as BSAG’s managing director on the 1st of August. Laura Höijer (Ph.D.) is a docent in microbe ecology, and acts as research director in Ministry of the Environment. She will be on a leave of absence from the Ministry for the next two years, and starts as BSAG’s content manager on the 1st of October.
”It’s great that we found two such skilled professionals to lead the foundation. I’m glad to retire knowing that the foundation will be left in safe and competent hands”, says Mathias Bergman.
BSAG’s newest Commitment Overview Report is now published. The report includes Baltic Sea Commitments made between January 2015 and January 2018. Altogether the report covers 30 Commitments. The report examines the types of Commitment making organizations, and the Commitments’ focus areas. Possible future trends in the Commitments are also explored.
Majority of the Commitments are made by organizations in the private sector, although some Commitments are also from the public sector. Most Commitments are focused on mitigating eutrophication in the Baltic Sea, and nutrients and nutrient cycling are mentioned often. This may be due to BSAG’s work on the nutrient cycling front, as well as Finland’s efforts to support procedures related to nutrient recovery and reuse.
Finnish Water Utilies Association (FIWA) has made a new Baltic Sea Commitment to increase property owners’ and landlords’ awareness on storm water issues and the environmental impacts of their water management solutions.
The impact of properties’ water management is significant in the time of heavy rains in many cities. Momentary flooding caused by heavy rainfall presents a problem to water management systems and sewerage systems. By slowing down storm waters on properties, water would have more time to flow through sewerage systems. This would prevent urban flooding and the need to bypass sewage water into the waterways without purification.
FIWA’s previous Commitment ended succesfully at the end of 2017. The Commitment focused on advising consumers to avoid releasing harmful chemicals into sewerage systems.