The interplay between natural site conditions and farming raises erosion by water above geological background levels. We examined the hypothesis that farmers take erosion into account in their farming decisions and switch to farming practices with lower erosion risk the higher the site-specific hazard becomes. Erosion since the last tillage was observed from aerial orthorectified photographs for 8100 fields belonging to 1879 farmers distributed across Bavaria (South Germany) and it was modeled by the Universal Soil Loss Equation using highly detailed input data (e.g., digital terrain model with 5×5m2 resolution, rain data with 1×1km2 and 5min resolution, crop and cropping method from annual field-specific data from incentive schemes). Observed and predicted soil loss correlated closely, demonstrating the accuracy of this method. The close correlation also indicted that the farmers could easily observe the degree of recent erosion on their fields, even without modelling. Farmers clearly did not consider erosion in their decisions. When natural risk increased, e.g. due to steeper slopes, they neither grew crops with lower erosion potential, nor reduced field size, nor used contouring. In addition, they did not compensate for the cultivation of crops with higher erosion potential by using conservation techniques like mulch tillage or contouring, or by reducing field size. Only subsidized measures, like mulch tillage or organic farming, were applied but only at the absolute minimum that was necessary to obtain subsidies. However, this did not achieve the reduction in erosion that would be possible if these measures had been fully applied. We conclude that subsidies may be an appropriate method of reducing erosion but the present weak supervision, which assumes that farmers themselves will take erosion into account and that subsidies are only needed to compensate for any disadvantages caused by erosion-reducing measures, is clearly not justified.
Keywords: Aerial photograph; Field layout; Hops; Organic farming; Soil loss; Tillage.
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