The Week in Soil

Revolutionary new research from the Crowther Lab has found that the world’s largest animal populations – namely nematodes - are located in sub-arctic soils, rather than tropical. These worm-like soil organisms make up 4/5 of all terrestrial life, or 80% of the weight of the entire human population, and play a critical role in nutrient and carbon cycling underground. The findings could change the way we go about tackling climate change.

Urban trees face a range of environmental challenges, the most significant being the scarcity of soil suitable for root growth. Urban soils are commonly extremely compacted, rendering the vital elements for healthy trees - drainage, aeration and fertility – compromised; sometimes the needs of the tree also come in to direct conflict with infrastructure specifications. Yet trees offer a myriad of benefits to urban spaces, rendering cities healthy and liveable. This is where the potential of Structural Soil comes in.

More research relevant to urban areas: a study from Anglia Ruskin University has found the presence of cigarette butts in soil reduces germination success and shoot length of plants by up to 28%. Cigarettes are believed to be the most pervasive form of plastic pollution, with an estimated 4.5 trillion butts littered globally in a year.

Our work with the supply chain continues, and Soil Association findings this week reveal there’s still a long way to go. Their health and sustainability ranking of children’s meals across 28 popular chains shows a lack of support for British produce, an inability to trace meat back to source, availability of single-use plastic, support for deforestation via use of uncertified animal feed and a lack of organic produce. All of which are bad news for the soil.

And the supply chain is being called to arms in America as the Union of Concerned Scientists have released  a new report encouraging cereal makers to support soil health, clean water and climate change mitigation in a significant way by making small commitments to source more sustainable ingredients.

A Norfolk farmer is inviting visitors to explore the environmental and income-boosting benefits of his new fast-growing energy crop Miscanthus, or Elephant Grass – a plant which thrives on unproductive land. He says the crop has particular benefits for soil health:

"It's clear that the farming sector needs to be more sustainable. We've tried to switch to minimum tillage on the farm as much as possible and the miscanthus will hopefully help our soils to recover from intensive farming over the years and leave them in better shape for future generations."

Soil moisture is the most important hydrologic state variable that directly impacts the global environment and human society and has been included in the list of the most fundamental climate variables. Soil moisture knowledge impacts on crop production, irrigation management, water conservation, natural disaster mitigation, monitoring of ecosystem response to climate change and much more. This article discusses the latest technological advances in the area and opportunities for future research.

Meanwhile, greater use of Green Water – rainfall stored in soil – has been presented as one  solution to water access and drought issues in California. It has been suggested that more effective use of greenwater could mitigate irrigation issues and support some of the farming State’s most important perennial crops.

Read our latest article: Defragmenting UK Soils Policy describes the trials, tribulations and occasional triumphs of working with government to improve soil health, and was published by our friends at Sectormentor for Soils this week.