The Week in Soil

A new study in Nature has revealed soil moisture can have a hugely negative impact on the land’s ability to store carbon – and that effects of climate change reduce soil’s moisture content; leading to a real danger of land turning from a carbon sink to a source of CO2, in turn greatly accelerating climate change.

There’s further detail on the implications of the study for the planet and humanity in this Newsweek article, which elaborates that soil and plants could be reaching their limit of absorption of human emissions – with the tipping point predicted for 2060.

At the 5th annual Soil Health Summit McDonalds – the world’s largest restaurant company, feeding 1% of the population every day – professed a concern for soil health: “We know as a food company that without soil and the people who take care of it we don’t have a product for our customers.” The food giant works directly with the Soil Health Partnership and invests in development of soil health practices in order to help farmers.

A study in Nature Geoscience has found it can take forest soils up to 80 years to recover from fire and logging damage, with pronounced reductions of organic carbon and key nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrate. The overall effects may also cause much longer term structural changes to the soil. Researchers said “a critical part of long-term sustainable forest management must be to create more undisturbed areas, to conserve soil conditions.”

A Cornell-led commentary published in Nature Sustainability has outlined a global plan for sequestering atmospheric carbon in soils. A 2018 meeting produced a road map for making sequestration politically and economically viable. This piece also highlights the positive impact a strong business case could have on soil management globally, includign the work of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development in building a corporate case for investing in soil health.

The governments of Japan and Vietnam have agreed to address the issue of salinity of agricultural soil, and Can Tho University is conducting field trials using a monitoring system to visualise the condition of land in the Mekong Delta. The region, containing 30% of Vietnam’s farmland, is increasingly prone to soil salinity due to climate change which has also caused increased frequency of droughts and floods.

And a committee set up by the National Green Tribunal in India has found that Rajasthani farmers should be compensated per unit of land lost due to chemicals in industrial wastewater which is ‘playing havoc with the soil’.

Meanwhile closer to home:

Guy Singh-Watson of Riverford Organics rants about why soil health is so very important;

and renowned soil health expert Joel Williams has outlined to Scottish farmers how improved biology is integral to soil health and subsequent plant growth at a recent round of Better Grazing meetings.