State-made policy institutions are a major component of the soil governance system. Policy targets different actor groups, and via steering their behaviour influences soil management directly and indirectly.
The State has different options to directly influence the allocation of land and the accompanying soil management. The most drastic measure is expropriation, used as a measure of last resort to align land use and soil management with public interests. A less drastic option is re-arrangement by land consolidation (Binder 2018), i.e. re-design, dislocation and merging of land parcels. This approach leaves property rights untouched, only the subject of the real property rights is changed. In Germany these management options are based on planning law (Land Consolidation Act and Federal Code).
Spatial planning is an important tool of the State’s involvement in land use and soil management. In Germany, urban and rural agricultural differ with respect to prerogatives of the planning administration (Möckel 2013; Bartkowski et al. 2018). For urban planning a specific development plan is drawn up that is binding and has specific restrictions what and in which way may be built on the land. In contrast, for agricultural land only protected areas can be determined – it is not possible to influence agricultural activities on the land by means of planning.
In addition to (re-)allocation of land to private users, the State can also own land. In Germany there is no publicly available statistical information for real-estate property; thus, it is difficult to say how much land belongs to the State. Nonetheless, publicly owned land has direct relevance to soil protection as here, the State can easily influence soil management. In Eastern Germany formerly public agricultural land has been privatized since Unification. Privatization is supposed to help farmers through purchasing land to ensure their economic activity. This process is managed by the association for re-development of land property (Bodenverwertungs- und –verwaltungs GmbH, BVVG). Since 1992, 861.400 ha agricultural land was sold mostly to farmers. Meanwhile, the share of land from BVVG in the affected federal states is on average 2 per cent.
A more indirect but potentially strong influence of the state on the use of natural resources, including soils, is public procurement – public organizations and authorities are a large source of demand for various consumer products, including e.g. food in canteens or materials for building and equipment (e.g. Lindström et al. 2020). Many of these products have consequences for land use and soil management.