The Week in Soil

A 19 year-long study conducted at the University of California has found that not only does adding compost to the soil increase soil carbon content in the top layer of soil, but it also increases the carbon content to up to 2 metres deep. This may be due to the way the water moves down through the soil.

Another study has found that the addition of the desert root fungus, Piriformospora indica, to tomatoes can increase yields by 65% in salty soils. The fungus promotes the production of an enzyme in the plant’s leaves which can remove sodium from cells.

On military training grounds in the US, they have two major problems: the disposal of classified papers which must be pulverised to such an extent they cannot be recycled and the poor condition of their soils. But they have found that by adding this paper waste to the soils, it can improve the health of the soils and increase the growth of native grasses.

Rothamsted Research centre has launched their own ‘dating site’. In which researchers can look for long-term on-going studies which are in the field of environmental or socio-economic impacts of agriculture or food production. So far, 65 different studies have signed up.

This article has highlighted the benefits of the cannabis plant to soils. It can suppress weeds; its roots provide soil aeration and allows for pollen isolation. Additionally, it allows for soil remediation and returns 60-70 percent of the nutrients it takes from the soil. It can be used as a cotton alternative and require half the amount of water and has a 250 percent higher yield.

A new technology has increased water retention and organic material in sandy soils in Zimbabwe. It consists of long strips of polyethylene membranes installed in a U-shape below and near the root zones of crops, known as subsurface water retention technology (SWRT). It has been predicted that it will be able to increase yields by 50% and may capture up to 15 million tonnes of carbon in the next 20 years.

A Finnish start-up has developed the HYDRA Scout, a sensor, which is buried 4 metres into the soil and can deliver information on temperature, moisture content and salinity in the soil. A single sensor can transmit data wirelessly to the Soil Scout base-station for up to 20 years from a distance of up to 900 metres.

A study by the Colorado State University and the University of Idaho has found that antibiotics from cows has many negative effects on the soil. These include the alteration of the soil microbiome and respiration, ecosystem functions and elemental cycling. Additionally, they found that when antibiotics are found in the soil, more carbon is lost to the atmosphere instead of being stored in the soil.

Fourteen sites in Serbia have been shortlisted to undergo remediation, as part of a nationwide initiative to improve land management. Previously industrial sites, they were contaminated by years of improper waste disposal, including carcinogens and heavy metals. The United National Environment Programme has analysed the sites, trained the local authorities in order for them to clean the areas and have set up a national platform in which they can share sustainable land management strategies.