The Week in Soil

A group of researchers may have found a way to reverse falling crop yields caused by salinity rising in farmland throughout the world, in part due to salt in irrigation water. Scientists used bacteria found in roots of salt-tolerant plants to successfully inoculate alfalfa against overly salty soil - significant as soils across China, Australia and the Middle East have grown increasingly salty, as well as major farmland in the southwest United States.

A piece in Nature this week has once again linked soils with climate change, as concerns rise of stored carbon lost as a result of increasing wildfires in forests. Boreal forests are major carbon sinks, storing 30-40% of terrestrial carbon in their organic soils – but could soon become carbon sources due to a rise in frequency of forest fires due to global warming.

In the UK, those living in natural wetland areas are being encouraged to recreate pocket peat areas in their gardens to increase the level of carbon stored there. Areas of Scotland, Somerset and East Anglia are naturally wet but have been drained for housing and agriculture. Recreating their original natural ecosystem even on a small scale would help lock up carbon and mitigate climate change.

Although there is variation in soil microbial communities across the globe, ecologists are beginning to identify general patterns that may contribute to biogeochemical dynamics under future climate change. This review focuses particularly on the importance of microbial community variation on decomposition and turnover of soil organic matter.

A consortium of soil health professionals in America are supporting farmers suffering as a result of a wet spring and challenging summer. This article elaborates on some of the techniques due for demonstration in a forthcoming soil health education day, including the use of smoke to indicate compaction and water movement through soils.

As part of their Smart Farmers series, Future Farming describe how compost (not cover cropping) is key to sequestering carbon – and shares the supportive research of scientists at the University of California. The 19 year study compared soil carbon changes in conventional, cover-cropped and compost-added cropping systems.

Northern Ireland have reformed their policy on soil sampling, bringing in rules under the new Nutrients Action Programme 2019-22 obliging farmers to carry out soil analysis before applying fertiliser to ensure money is not wasted on unnecessary chemical additives and helping to protect the environment and water quality.

Cotton production in America, the third largest producer of the crop globally, “presents an opportunity and responsibility to rebuild soil health starting at home” according to this inspiring long read in Resilience magazine. Cotton is notoriously one of the dirtiest and most soil-damaging crops, but the producer featured here is trying to reform the production process from the ground up.

“I’m not a gardener, I’m a soil mechanic.” This tribute to a nature-friendly ‘ethical’ gardener is also an ode to the soil and the best way to support it for maximum environmental benefit. An educational, emotional and highly recommended read