The Week in Soil

The World Day to Combat Desertification & Drought took place on Monday and was celebrated with a flagship seminar on drought and agriculture: ‘Counting crops and drops – let’s grow the future together’ at FAO headquarters in Rome. The FAO have also recently released some new resources – including a handbook on ‘Soil Erosion: The greatest challenge for sustainable soil management’ and a soil atlas of Malawi.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has reported that cutting farm ammonia emissions in half would save 3000 lives a year in the UK – but that targets have not been met due to government inaction, according to an investigation by the Bureau and the Guardian. Ammonia is the only pollutant on the rise in the UK, and taking simple measures to cut it would be the ‘most effective way’ to improve air quality and reduce deaths.

Researchers from Cornell University have improved understanding of how iron in the soil can help unlock naturally-occurring phosphorous bound in organic matter, which could reduce farmers’ need for artificial fertilisers in future.

Whilst an international team of biologists has identified a novel anti-inflammatory lipid in soil-dwelling bacterium which could be responsible for the recognised health benefits of increased time in natural environments, as proposed in 1989’s ‘hygiene hypothesis.’

And scientists based at Seoul University have found that some soil microorganisms, namely fungi and algae, increase in diversity after exposure to high-intensity radiation. Researchers can use the trials to aid understanding of the mechanisms microbes use to survive and repair damage from radiation.

Christine Jones, Australian soil ecologist and keynote speaker at this year’s Conservation Tillage conference in Ada, recommends a diverse diet to maintain soil health, comparing the soil microbiome to the human gut flora. Read more here.

Also in America, the Sustainable Farming Association, that has always centred itself around the importance of soil health, is now turning its attention to supporting farmers to diversify with specialist crops and educating new farmers from military backgrounds on their options within agriculture.

And finally, “Respecting the capacity of the land, of all our different landscapes, is essential if we are to avoid further disaster...In exporting agricultural produce we are also exporting our soil and water.” Why agriculture should be driven by environmentalists – in her new book Patrice Newell makes the case for environmental policy beginning at the farm gate, with poor soil management at its heart. Read an extract here.