The Week in Soil

A progress report from the Soil Health Institute reveals an increase in soil health practices such as cover cropping and no-till production in farming across the US. Cover crop acres have increased by 50%, and the data reveals that once farmers embraced the practice they typically accelerated its use across their land. Read the report here.

Meanwhile, this lovely local interview with founder of Cleveland-based composting project Rust Belt Riders demonstrates the rise of interest in the circular economy and giving back to the soil via food waste.

Burial uses too much land and leaches polluting toxins in to the soil; cremation releases 400kg of CO2 in to the atmosphere per body. The Guardian this week discusses the most eco-friendly way to dispose of a body – and introduces new methods that produce water-based fertiliser, utilise decomposition by funghi and transform bodies in to ‘usable soil, to grow new life.’

The Guardian also just yesterday released a video on soil health with contributions from the SSA alongside our friends and partners from Durham and Sheffield Universities, Groundswell, the Soil Association and CPRE. It explains the current soil health crisis and why this is significant, going on to outline the movement to restore fertility and how we can all help. View the video here.

Last year US farmers planted more chickpeas than ever to satisfy growing demand for plant-based protein – and the result has been an improvement in soil health, a new report has found. The nitrogen-fixing plant is restoring fertility of soils depleted by intensive farming, and could also contribute to carbon storage and climate change mitigation.

Around 1/3 of the world’s arable soils suffer from a lack of accessible iron, rendering them inhospitable to staple crops such as maize and soybeans. A Stanford research team, however, has recently made a breakthrough which could enable future growth of crops on these alkaline soils. In discovering one hardy plant that is able to thrive on what are known as ‘marginal soils’ they suggest they have made a significant step towards a ‘new type of ecologically savvy crop science.’

Soil compaction is a constant challenge on grassland farms, but tackling the problem can be difficult – a representative of the Agri-Food & Biosciences Institute (AFBI) cast doubt on the long term efficacy of many available techniques. Alex Higgins stressed the need for all grassland farmers to conduct regular soil testing and analysis.

For those interested in tech developments in the world of soils and agriculture, this piece tells the story of the rocky road to the launch of SoilWeb 2.0, an app that translates the world’s largest collection of soil data in to accessible information about an individual’s surroundings.

Congratulations to our friend Tim O’Hare, the soil scientist and landscape consultant responsible for deliver of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and King’s Cross regeneration among other iconic and influential landscape projects at home and abroad. He has been made an Honorary Fellow by the Kew Guild for his outstanding contribution to the environment.

A Japanese spacecraft has become the first to successfully collect underground soil samples from an asteroid, located 180 million miles from Earth. Scientists hope the soil will provide new clues as to the origin of the solar system.

And in a fascinating collection of quotes and soundbites from the men that were there, readers learn just what it felt like to land on the moon – including the hardened soil which panicked Buzz Aldrin as he attempted to plant the flagpole in the lunar surface.

And the Queen made headlines whilst visiting our friends at the National Institute for Agricultural Botany in Cambridge, when she insisted she was still capable of planting a tree unassisted.

Photo credit: Beccy Strong/The Guardian