European farming is being threatened by declining soil quality, particularly in eastern states, according to a report.
Soil quality must be better protected, says the new atlas
More than 16% of EU land is affected by soil degradation but more than a third is affected in eastern countries.
Costly measures to boost soil fertility put pressure on the Common Agricultural Policy, the EU's farming subsidy system, says the Soil Atlas of Europe.
Urbanisation, climate change, pollution and poor farming practices contribute to declining soil quality, it says.
The atlas, produced by the EU's Joint Research Centre, is the first full assessment of Europe's soil.
Changing land management practices are widely blamed for declining soil quality across Europe.
In southern Europe, nearly 75% of soil has an organic matter content - a measure of soil fertility - low enough to cause concern. In England and Wales, the percentage of soils classed as low in organic matter rose from 35% to 42% between 1980 and 1995.
"Agriculture depends on healthy soil. But changes in farming, land use and climate are threatening the health of soil in many areas," Arwyn Jones, research scientist at the Joint Research Centre, told the Financial Times newspaper.
"As the atlas points out, we owe our existence to a thin layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains."
The major threats to soil quality identified by the atlas are erosion, the overuse of fertilisers and pesticides, the loss of organic content, pollution from industry, the loss of biodiversity, salinity, the compacting of soil by agricultural vehicles, landslides and flooding.
Authors of the report say farmers have failed to exercise simple measures to protect soil quality, such as composting it.
"We definitely undervalue the contribution of soil to our biodiversity, but unless we protect it better we will soon realise its importance in the worst possible way - by seeing the problems caused by its loss," said Janez Potocnik, the EU commissioner for science and research.
The study will form the basis of an EU soil framework directive which is intended to shield Europe's soil from further damage.