10 September 2020

A new IUCN report advises that farmers can deliver substantial benefits for food/water security and climate change mitigation/adaptation by increasing the biodiversity of their soils with sustainable practices. The report, released this week, shows an annual increase of just 0.4% in the carbon content of agricultural soils - a key indicator of soil biodiversity - by 2050 could boost global production of major crops by up to 23.4%, 22.9% and 41.9% per year respectively.

An important new research paper has used the latest projections of climate and land use change to assess global soil erosion rates by water over the period 2015-70. Authors hope it will enable policy makers to identify hotspots and work with stakeholders to mitigate impacts. They also provide insight as to the mitigating effects of conservation agriculture and the need for more effective policy for soil protection. 

Soil age has been shown to be important in the regulation of silicon cycling through Earth’s systems. New insights contribute to the debate on how human disturbance, including deforestation and agricultural expansion, influence silicon biogeochemistry and associated impacts on carbon sequestration.

Scientists are building on knowledge of soil microbial communities, their interactions with root systems, and the effective use of these relationships for healthy plant growth. Long term trials in Australia are establishing how tillage impacts on the interactions and resulting crop yield.

The upcoming Horizons Europe soil health mission aims to unite farmers and researchers to halt soil degradation and restore fertility to land. The goal is for 3/4 of European soils to be classified healthy by 2030. The mission is one of Europe’s five research ‘moonshots’ set to launch in 2021. It is “maybe the most difficult one,” said one associated professor, as “others are on topics which people know about.”

Farmers and fruit growers report that climate change is leading to increased ozone concentrations on the soil surface in their fields and orchards, which can cause irreversible plant damage, reduce crop yields and threaten the food supply. Researchers in Massachusetts have discovered that ‘tattoos’ on plant leaves can help to detect exposure at an early stage, enabling growers to prevent damage to crops.

New research seeks to discover the properties of soils that liquify as a result of earthquake shakes. Questions follow the liquefaction of gravelly soils in a recent New Zealand quake, where previously it was thought only sandy soils were affected in this way. Results will help councils, planners and developers make better-informed decisions about land used for new developments.

With the recent surge in home vegetable growing over lockdown, the firm SafeSoil UK suggest growers should consider potential soil contamination before enjoying their harvest. Those with gardens close to former industrial sites, busy roads, mines or farms should consider soil testing to establish presence of any damaging pollutants present.

Finally, an exhibition has brought soil, worms, a bog and earth scents in to a London gallery. Earth Eaters hopes to inspire visitors to consider the impacts of climate change and question what is at stake if we do not work to halt the crisis.

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