Functional land management: A framework for managing soil-based ecosystem services for the sustainable intensification of agriculture

Rogier P.O. Schulte*, Rachel E. Creamer, Trevor Donnellan, Niall Farrelly, Reamonn Fealy, Cathal O'Donoghue, Daire O'hUallachain

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

192 Citations (Scopus)


Sustainable food production has re-emerged at the top of the global policy agenda, driven by two challenges: (1) the challenge to produce enough food to feed a growing world population and (2) the challenge to make more efficient and prudent use of the world's natural resources. These challenges have led to a societal expectation that the agricultural sector increase productivity, and at the same time provide environmental 'ecosystem services' such as the provision of clean water, air, habitats for biodiversity, recycling of nutrients and mitigation against climate change. Whilst the degree to which agriculture can provide individual ecosystem services has been well researched, it is unclear how and to what extent agriculture can meet all expectations relating to environmental sustainability simultaneously, whilst increasing the quantity of food outputs. In this paper, we present a conceptual framework for the quantification of the 'supply of' and 'demand for' agricultural, soil-based ecosystem services or 'soil functions'. We use Irish agriculture as a case-study for this framework, using proxy-indicators to determine the demand for individual soil functions, as set by agri-environmental policies, as well as the supply of soil functions, as defined by land use and soil type. We subsequently discuss how this functionality of soils can be managed or incentivised through policy measures, with a view to minimising the divergence between agronomic policies designed to promote increased agricultural production and environmental policy objectives. Finally, we discuss the applicability of this conceptual framework to agriculture and agri-environmental policies at EU level, and the implications for policy makers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-58
Number of pages14
JournalEnvironmental Science and Policy
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Food security
  • Soil framework directive
  • Soil functions
  • Soil quality
  • Thematic strategy on soils


Dive into the research topics of 'Functional land management: A framework for managing soil-based ecosystem services for the sustainable intensification of agriculture'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this