Geographical description

Location, size, elevation, climate, soils, land use types, geology.
The site Szaniawy (N 51° 59' 24", E 22° 33' 37") of area about 30 km2) is located in region Podlasie (county Łuków). Main type of land use include agricultural lands (80.5%) and forests/shrubs (13.5%). Elevation is approximately 160 m. The topography is mostly flat (Figure 2), with little variation in absolute altitudes (less than 20 m). The climate is continental with high temperatures during summer and long and frosty winters. The average annual air temperature is 7.3 °C. Long-term annual total precipitation is 536 mm and the vegetation period last 200 to 210 days. Rainfalls are substantially higher during summer (212 mm) than winter (83 mm). The highest rainfall occurs in June and July (over 70 mm) and the lowest in January, February, and March (less than 30 mm). The soils were derived from loose sands, loamy sands, and loams. On average they contain 13% of clay and <1% of organic matter and are acidic or neutral (average pH 4.3 in KCl and 4.8 in H2O) (Usowicz et al., 2004). The average value of the cation exchange capacity is 10 cmol kg-1.

General view of Szaniawy study site
Study site
Area surrounding study site

Pedo-climatic zone
Continental, sandy and loamy soils

Cropping systems

Cropping intensity
Traditionally conventional farming system is mostly used. Organic farming, conservation tillage and precision agriculture are scarcely used.

Types of crop
The most frequent crops in crop rotation are cereals (60%), maize (35%), potatoes and others (5%). Choice of crops by small farmers who dominate in the region is profit driven.

Management of soil, water, nutrients and pests
Conventional tillage is the main type of tillage with percentage higher than 90%. The implementation of reduced tillage out of total arable land is several percents. This figure for zero tillage is approximately 1 percent (Sánchez et al., 2013). Mineral fertilizers and animal manures or farmyard manure are used to maintain/improve nutrient status.
Methods used to combat pests include, mechanical controls such as trapping or weeding or selective spraying of pesticides with consideration the cost of different control options. Rain-fed crop production is most common.

Soil improving cropping system and techniques currently used
1. Main soil improving measures include: the use of legume crops in crop rotation, cover or intermediate crops (e.g. peas, vetch, lupin, rape, serradella), mulching, liming, organic fertilizers and mineral fertilizers. They are particularly useful on dominant sandy soils, but not used extensively.
2. Forestation of poor and coarse textured soils is going on.
3. Conversion of arable land into grasslands in wet and undrained areas.

Problems that cause yield loss or increased costs
Majority of land in Poland has a crop yield ratio (actual over potential) between 40-55% (Królczyk et al., 2014). Based on edapho-climatic conditions the potential yield is estimated to be 8 Mg ha-1 for wheat and 4 Mg ha-1 for rapeseed. Main causes of the relatively low yields include poor natural farming conditions due to prevalence of light, sand-derived soils (60%). These soils are acidic and very acidic (pH <5.5) due to post glacial and strongly acidified deposits and insufficient liming. About 55% of arable soils show content of soil organic matter (SOM) in the range below 1%-2.0% and only 3% of the soils show the SOM above 3%. The intensification of soil use combined with the simplified crop rotation and predominance of cereals in crop rotation (about 60-70%) together with an expansion of farming systems based on crop production with a reduced number of livestock or without animals intensifies the process of organic matter degradation (Rutkowska and Pikuła, 2013). In such farms the main source of soil organic matter is fertilization with ploughed straw. Another environmental problem is water deficit during growing season (especially on sandy soils) in predominantly rain-fed crops.

Other causes of the low yields include insufficient implementation of the most advanced agricultural technologies, the use of poor quality of seeds (not certified) for planting and inadequate use of legume crops (1% in cropped area) to improve soil structure and increase biological N fixation and thus reduce fertilizer needs. Moreover, unfavourable economic situation, especially of small farms limits the prospects for investing. This information indicates that the study site and other areas in Poland have a high potential to sustainable increase of crop yields and productivity.

External drivers and factors

Institutional and political drivers
1. Legislation on subsidizing cultivation of beneficial legume crops by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in Poland.
2. Act on renewable energy sources (20 February 2015) defining between others conditions for using plant biomass for energy production.
3. Strategy of sustainable rural development, agriculture and fisheries for 2012-2020. (25 April 2012)
4. defining main actions for development of rural areas including increase the productivity and competitiveness of the agri-food sector and environmental protection and adaptation to climate change.

Societal drivers
Choice of cropping system towards sustainable increasing crop yields and productivity can receive strong public support. This can be due to that greater crop productivity can be a scheme to mitigate competitiveness of land use for energy crops and to maintain the increased demands for land under the protection of biodiversity (‘greening’) (Królczyk et al., 2014). Another societal driver associated with improving crop productivity yield in a sustainable manner will be an opportunity for farmers to get better knowledge and capacity for accessing innovative
agricultural management practices.

Bio-physical drivers
Unfavourable rainfall’s distribution and increasing frequency of the risks including excessively dry and hot or excessively wet periods during growing seasons are observed (Lipiec et al., 2013). Comprehensive understanding the complexity of the crop and soil responses and adaptive changes in response to drought and heat stresses will enable farmers to make relevant choices to mitigate the adverse effects. Also rainfall associated with hurricanes and storms cause significant flooding and damage in agriculture.