The question of how delicate are soil reserves for agriculture is increasingly being asked by the scientific community.
We know that there is an environmental impact from the activities of agricultural producers, and the resulting pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides, among other chemicals, that are used on modern agricultural land.
How much is groundwater being polluted?
What about the land that supports the food we eat?
Why is soil depletion a thing to be concerned about?
The delicate nature of natural soils and their vulnerability to human interference gives us another important question: How do we keep our natural soils as fragile as possible while still achieving maximum productivity from our modern agricultural systems?
As you may have heard, over the last century or so, a great deal of agricultural land has been turned into pasture and arable fields in order to feed a vast society of people. This broad area of grasslands and deserts became what is known as “farmed soils”. These soils, which once provided natural fertility, have been over farmed for decades with the result that they now support very little natural biodiversity. In short much of this formerly natural landscape has become depleted of vital nutrients, which have led to the decline of many species of plants and animals as well as the decline in water and nutrient cycles and consequently flood ways, water storage tanks, and the loss of wetlands.
It’s true that we don’t have to “over farm” our soils to destroy them. What is wrong with the idea of “farming” our soils to the point that they lose their natural value and capability to provide food and other essential nutrients? How can we insure that our soils won’t be depleted even more? These questions will no doubt be coming up among the readers of this article, so let’s take a moment to address some of these critical issues and look at the real problem:
Agricultural soils, both on an individual basis and in combined soils, are extremely precious natural resources. They cover nearly half of the earth’s surface and yet most are lost each year to the practice of agriculture. The sad truth is that we’re literally trading our precious soil and resources for cash. It would be difficult to find a more profitable venture for a modern farmer to enter into.
Soil naturally contains a large amount of organic matter, including nitrogen, sulfur, magnesium, and potassium. These nutrients are vital to plant growth, and, therefore help maintain a healthy environment within the soil, just as the well-known topsoil in many regions provides natural fertility for a variety of plant life. However, the organic matter in natural soils also provides a store of organic carbon dioxide, which acts as a source of atmospheric oxygen. As it happens, agriculture needs a lot of carbon dioxide to increase the nitrogen level in the soil and thus promote a healthy root system. Essentially, agricultural soils act like a giant sponge, pulling carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in return for nitrogen and other nutrients, while keeping away nitrogen from undesirable plants.
Because of this sponge-like condition of natural soils, their loss is directly proportional to the rate of soil erosion. In natural settings, soil erosion occurs quite regularly because the soil is never completely empty. Instead, it continually discharges its contents into the environment in the form of run off or washed away by rains. But in modern agricultural settings, the rate at which soils are erosion is much faster due to the introduction of artificial means of moving water, such as the practice of hydro-dumping or septic tanks. The combination of these two factors have been said to have an alarming increase in the rate of soil loss over the past century.
Soils that are rich in organic matter but lack in natural fertility are particularly susceptible to eroding. What makes things even more concerning is the fact that most modern farming techniques and fertilizers greatly amplify the rate of soil erosion. Thus, even if a farmer manages to save his soil structure, he is still left with low organic matter content because of the excessive use of natural fertilizers. What does all this mean for the consumer? For starters, modern pesticides, herbicides, and other chemical products can seriously threaten the natural balance of our ecosystems. Which could substantially affect food supplies, water supplies, and our climate.
The best solution to this problem is to take care of the soil by maintaining proper soil management techniques such as crop rotation, crop supplementation, and soil aeration. Aerating a natural lawn two times a year – once in the spring and once in the autumn – could drastically reduce the rate of soil erosion and increase the levels of nutrient retention. Soil management experts say that increasing the levels of organic matter in soil structure is probably the best solution to increasing crop yields, since organic matter is the cornerstone of plant nutrition.
Provided by Antonio Westley
Disclaimer: This article is meant to be seen as an overview of this subject and not a reflection of viewpoints or opinions as nothing is definitive. So, make sure to do your research and feel free to use this information at your own discretion.