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Soil Health & How We Can Improve

We have 60 harvests left. 

The UN warned us two years ago that the world’s soils face severe exhaustion and depletion, with an estimated 60 harvests left before they are too degraded to feed the planet.

We can change this, and even reverse global warming, just by taking care of our soil. 

Currently, and since WW2, the new way that we farm is actually damaging our climate, our wildlife, our soils and our health – and by putting healthy foods on our plates we are actually harming ourselves. It has been said that to solve these interconnected crises we must change the way that we grow food, and what we put on our plates. We must start by replenishing our soils.

Why are soils being depleted? 

We are poisoning them. The overuse of pesticides is the reason that the current practice of farming is so damaging, and is one of the largest areas that needs to change.

What are pesticides?

They are a mix of chemicals that are designed to kill insects (insecticides), other pests, fungal diseases (fungicides) and weeds (herbicides). Most pesticides are used in farming to grow our food, but they have also been used in public parks, schools and sometimes our own gardens.

Scientists increasingly believe there is no safe level of pesticides for humans to be exposed to. Even the tiny amounts that the Government currently consider safe could be damaging to human health.

Farms are using pesticides on an enormous scale. Farmers have become reliant on them and they’ve found their way into our food, our soils, our rivers and our wildlife. 

What is happening to our soils?

Our soils are becoming increasingly depleted, and degraded because of a combination of intensive farming practices and natural processes. Because of overworked soil and unhealthy pesticides, the layer of fertile topsoil begins to thin, which makes it increasingly more difficult to grow crops for food. With no crops and vegetation, photosynthesis cannot occur – this is where in green plants, light energy is captured and used to convert water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and rich organic compounds. 

Plants, crops and vegetation literally consume carbon dioxide. Our planet is producing far too much carbon emission, causing excessive ‘Greenhouse Gases’, and climate change is occurring at an accelerated rate. More plants equal a healthy planet, and no pesticides equals healthier people. All which can be done by improving our soils.

It has been said that ‘Without altering agricultural practices and urgently finding ways to preserve soil, the global food supply starts to look precarious.’

Fossil fuel fertilisers

Almost all fertilisers are produced using energy-intensive methods, which use oil and gas. Phosphate-based fertilisers rely on the use and mining of phosphate, an unsustainable resource and production process uses various toxic chemicals.

Should we find an alternative?

Yes. As well as reducing the use of fossil fuels and improving our environment, alternatives such as digestate-ash fertiliser, which could delete the reliance of fossil fuels, could also reduce costs and provide these forms of renewable energy. This could help towards the UK energy demand.

An eco-friendly solution is organic carbon put to soil. The higher the soil organic carbon, the more it will promote soil structure or ‘tilth’, meaning a greater physical stability. It also improves oxygen levels in the soil (aeration) and water drainage and retention, reducing erosion and the breakdown of nutrients.

How can we increase soil carbon? 

By increasing soil organic matter levels. This can be done by growing perennial pasture, or farming continuously through the year under grass-dominant pasture to increase organic matter and replenish the levels of the soil. Spreading manure, and using organic fertilisers will assist this too, as well as keeping cultivation to a minimum. 

English soils have a rapidly declining organic carbon content that can be improved by increasing soil organic matter levels naturally, but can also be replenished by transforming Biowaste into suitable soil improvers. 

What is Biowaste?

Biowaste (or Biodegradable waste) is any organic matter that can be broken down into carbon dioxide, water, methane or organic molecules by composting, aerobic digestion or anaerobic digestion. This can be from garden and park waste, food and kitchen waste from homes, restaurants, caterers and comparable waste from food processing plants. It uses the same method as our home composts. 

Biomass can significantly improve soil

In 2016, researchers at the RIKEN Center for Sustainable Resource Science in Japan showed that torrefied (dried) biomass could improve the quality of poor soil found in arid regions. The study showed that adding torrefied biomass to poor soil from Botswana also increased water retention in the soil, as well as mass plant growth.*

*Source: Scientific reports; 2016

Enhanced Natural Capital 

The ‘Natural Capital’ is defined as the ‘world’s stocks of natural assets’, including geology, soil, air, water and all living things. The UK’s natural capital assets (for example, woodlands, beaches and grasslands) provide ecosystem services (for example trees absorb pollutants) and from these we realise benefits.

In 2020, the National Natural Capital Atlas was launched by Natural England, mapping the state of our natural capital in terms of its quantity, quality and location. Their 25 Year Environment Plan aims to improve the state of the environment within a generation; we need to create resilient ecosystems where both people and planet are able to thrive. **

Biomass, and other natural ways to improve our soils, will enhance the Natural Capital and assist the Environmental Plan.  We need to improve soil, and we need to do it now.

60 harvests left.

For more information on Biomass, Biowaste and improving our soil health, visit the Eco Solutions pages to learn how we are combatting the global environmental crisis.

**Source: NaturalEngland.org

 

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