Since, the Common Agricultural Policies (CAP) reform in 2003, many efforts have been made at the European level to promote a more environmentally friendly agriculture. In order to oblige farmers to manage their land sustainably, the GAEC (Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions) were introduced as part of the Cross Compliance mechanism. Among the standards indicated, the protection of soils against erosion and the maintenance of soil organic matter and soil structure were two pillars to protect and enhance the soil quality and functions. While Member States should specifically define the most appropriate management practices and verify their application, there is a substantial lack of knowledge about the effects of this policy on erosion prevention and soil organic carbon (SOC) change. In order to fill this gap, we coupled a high resolution erosion model based on Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation (RUSLE) with the CENTURY biogeochemical model, with the aim to incorporate the lateral carbon fluxes occurring with the sediment transportation. Three scenarios were simulated on the whole extent of arable land in Italy: (i) a baseline without the GAEC implementation; (ii) a current scenario considering a set of management related to GAEC and the corresponding area of application derived from land use and agricultural management statistics and (iii) a technical potential where GAEC standards are applied to the entire surface. The results show a 10.8% decrease, from 8.33Mgha−1 year−1 to 7.43Mgha−1 year−1, in soil loss potential due to the adoption of the GAEC conservation practices. The technical potential scenario shows a 50.1% decrease in the soil loss potential (soil loss 4.1Mgha−1 year−1). The GAEC application resulted in overall SOC gains, with different rates depending on the hectares covered and the agroecosystem conditions. About 17% of the SOC change was attributable to avoided SOC transport by sediment erosion in the current scenario, while a potential gain up to 23.3Mt of C by 2020 is predicted under the full GAEC application. These estimates provide a useful starting point to help the decision-makers in both ex-ante and ex-post policy evaluation while, scientifically, the way forward relies on linking biogeochemical and geomorphological processes occurring at landscape level and scaling those up to continental and global scales.
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Land Use Policy is an international and interdisciplinary journal concerned with the social, economic, political, legal, physical and planning aspects of urban and rural land use. It provides a forum for the exchange of ideas and information from the diverse range of disciplines and interest groups which must be combined to formulate effective land use policies.
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