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30 August 2019

A new World Bank report that assembled and assessed the world’s largest database of water pollution outlines the water quality crisis impacting significantly across the globe, causing GDP growth to drop by 1/3 in impacted areas due to effects on health, agriculture & ecosystems. A key contributor is nitrogen from fertiliser runoff which effects children’s development and potential future earnings; whilst saline water has caused the loss of food that would feed 170m people. The issue affects both wealthy and developing countries.

The recent public water pollution scandal in Flint, Michigan has brought to attention the pervasive nature of lead contamination which can also affect air and topsoil, and can cause serious health problems in those that are exposed. Lead remains in US soil following the ramp down of leaded gasoline, and can easily become airborne through human or other activity.

Organic gases emitted and consumed by soils via their bacteria, fungi and microorganisms, are often very reactive in the atmosphere. This review describes how they alter the chemical composition of the atmosphere and influence the local, regional and global climate.

Technology is proving to be a force for good in some areas of farming. Collecting soil samples, the largest and most common source of error in the soil testing process, can now be aided by an autonomous robot that collects precise, accurate and repeatable samples from the field and helps farmers to deliver better yields and reduce environmental impact.

€1.6m funding has been announced to support the development of new technologies, practices and on-farm solutions to poor soil and water quality. Researchers at the University of Guelph will also be considering soil health tracking, enhancing productivity in off-seasons, attracting pollinators and overcoming barriers that prevent high soil health.

Meanwhile, the University has recently produced research revealing ground-nesting bees are exposed to high levels of lethal neonicotinoids that persist in the soil. In the first study of its kind, researchers found significant impacts of the chemicals on at least one bee species, with implications for wider pollinators and farming.

And a further, $2.7m fund has been announced to support American researchers to study how soil microbes respond to drought. They believe the microorganisms’ reaction could be the key to identifying robust solutions to climate change.

Whilst a new paper in Science calls for more government funding to fill existing gaps in knowledge of underground soil life and their dynamics on future climate change. The aim is to explore how best to support healthy soil communities in order to maximise carbon storage potential.

Good news: this year alone, 10 states of America have announced new soil management policies. The encouraged practices help farms to become more resilient to droughts and flooding, with taxpayer-funded schemes helping where the switch to new strategies can be expensive for farmers already at the edge of their margins.

Many people will be currently gearing up for Organic September, a month in which the Soil Association and countless other producers and organisations encourage consumers to try switching to organic fruit, veg, meat and beauty products. Here are 5 easy changes to make for those that want to give it a try.

And finally, this anecdotal piece reflects on the myriad ways soil can be contaminated, the importance of getting soil tested and solutions to common soil health problems.