Geographical description

The study site is located in Akershus county in south-eastern Norway, one of the main areas for cereal cropping systems. The total area of Akershus county is 4918 km2 with agricultural area covering ca. 900 km2. Marine sediments with clay and silt dominate. Artificial land levelling was performed in the 70-80ties to promote use of larger machinery and cereal cropping systems. In some municipalities, up to 40 % of the agricultural area is levelled, resulting in high erosion risk. The county area will be used for stakeholder analyses. Precipitation range between 665-785 mm annually and winter period with frozen soils and snowmelt has a major influence and soil processes (infiltration, erosion). Soil data is available for each farmer’s field.

The catchments Skuterud (6.8 km2) and Mørdre (4.5 km2) within Akershus county will be used for more detailed analyses. Skuterud and Mørdre represent cereal production in undulating landscapes with erosion problems. In addition, use will be made of two experimental field sites: Apelsvoll cropping system experimental site and Kjelle experimental fields. The Apelsvoll cropping system is located on Apelsvoll, near the largest lake in Norway, Mjøsa, in Central South-east Norway (120 km north of Oslo). The altitude is 250 m.a.s.l. The cropping system was established in 1988/1989, it covers 3.2 ha. The experiment comprises 12 mini-farms, each having a four-year crop rotation. Altogether six cropping systems are represented (two replicates): Three systems with cash-cropping (mainly cereals) and three systems with both arable and fodder crops, representing mixed dairy production. Kjelle is located near Bjørkelangen, about 60 km east from Oslo, on an area with shallow slopes. The experiments started in 2014, with emphasise of this experiment (9 plots, each 8 x 50 m in size) on analysing soil management effects on soil surface discharge and infiltration.

Skuterud catchment Modre catchment
Skuterud catchment Mørdre catchment

Cropping systems

Cropping intensity
Akershus County is dominated by conventional agricultural cropping intensity; organic farming is ongoing on a small scale. Conservation methods and precision management is promoted and under research, but not widespread. Grain and oil seed production covers 69% of the agricultural area, 26% is used for forage crops. In Skuterud catchment, 90 % of the area is used for grain and oil seed production and 10 % for grass cultivation, while in Mørdre catchment 85% of the area is used for grain production, 6 % for potatoes and 4% for grass production. Skuterud has 43% autumn wheat, 30% oats and 19% barley, while Mørdre has 40% oats and 33% barley. The arable crops at Apelsvoll experimental site include spring cereals (wheat, barley, oats) and potatoes and oats with peas. Fodder crops include grass–clover leys and meadow grasses with red clover. Kjelle has an annual grain production with focus on soil management.

Management of soil, water, nutrients and pests
Autumn ploughing has dominated cereal production. Subsidies promoting reduced tillage has led to increased spring tillage (53% for total cereal area) and light autumn harrowing replacing ploughing. All farmers are obliged to have a fertilizer plan based on soil samples to receive production support.

Soil improving cropping system and techniques currently used 

The Regional Environmental Programme supports, by use of subsidies:

  • reduced tillage
  • leaving area in stubble until spring
  • light autumn harrowing (leaving minimum 30 % straw on soil surface)
  • direct drilling
  • use of catch crops.

In addition, support is given for grass on areas with high erosion risk, buffer zones, grassed waterways and sedimentation ponds.

Problems that cause yield loss or increased costs
From 1991 the area of cereal production has decreased in Norway. From 2000 it is reduced by 14 %. Part of the area has shifted from cereal to grassland production - promoted by subsides for grassland to reduce erosion and improve water quality. Subsidies for meat production has also increased the area of grassland. In addition, the crop yield/unit area has shown stagnation and even a decreasing trend, but with high variations. An expert group appointed by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food in 2013 has explained losses due to: soil compaction, lack of good drainage, lack of crop rotation, plant diseases, choice of variety, genetic material, suboptimal level of
fertilizer, plant health issues.

Reduced tillage to reduce erosion can increase fusarium and reduce yields. A follow up project- from evaluation to action – is now focusing on dissemination activities to extension service and farmers to increase yields. The expert group has also listed both economic and societal reasons for lower yields.

External drivers and factors

Institutional and political drivers
Regional Environmental Programmes (RMP) support different farming practices and tillage systems to reduce erosion and nutrient losses. This affects both soil quality and environmental effects like drinking water quality (link to the Water Frame Directive). Support is given in accordance with the erosion risk of the specific area. In some watersheds used for drinking water supply, specific regulations and subsidy payment regulate farming practices and tillage systems.

Production support program supports the different productions systems and regulates Norwegian production systems in specific regions for cereal cropping and livestock production. The political decisions about canalisation of production systems influence on soil management and environmental issues.

Societal drivers
40% of agricultural land is being rented from other farmers, entrepreneur contracts are increasing- influencing the willingness to invest in e.g. drainage. Most farmers with cereal production are part time farmers, due to small farm sizes and small income. Part time farming might lead to simple and practical solutions for soil management and cropping systems with little workload. Management operations might be performed when farmers has time and not when soil conditions are optimal.
Public awareness and requirements to fulfil the Water Frame directive has led to restriction of agricultural activity in catchments in Akershus county.

Bio-physical drivers
Climate change is expected to give increased precipitation and more extreme events. Weather conditions will influence management possibilities like timing of sowing andharvesting possibilities. Delayed sowing can reduce yield and wetter conditions will influence on crop quality, plant health, harvesting security, risk of runoff and pollution.