Thursday, 3 September 2015

Looking after our soil

A good soil is clearly the key to a good future:
Futures Forum: Peak oil, peak soil, peak water... peak everything

And we need to look after it:
Futures Forum: Soil-conservation farming >>> protecting the soil

Futures Forum: Climate change... and 'Interstellar': degrading soil and running out of food

Here are a couple of pieces from the RuSource/Arthur Rank Centre:

Securing UK Soil Health 

1 September


Soils filter and store water, support agriculture and other plant and animal communities, and harbour a quarter of the world’s biodiversity. Soil is a renewable resource but can be permanently degraded by pressures such as urbanisation or erosion. Degradation of peat soils releases CO2 to the atmosphere. Arable soil health can be improved by appropriate cropping and organic matter inputs but poor management can lead to erosion, degradation of soil fertility and reductions in water-holding capacity. The evidence base for soil management has been challenging to develop because soils improve slowly. There is no UK-wide scheme for monitoring soil health. 

This paper is from POSTNOTE 502 from the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. A referenced version can be accessed at: Research Briefings - Securing UK Soil Health

Background Soil performs several globally important functions: 
o Food production. 
o Soils are home to a quarter of the Earth’s biodiversity. 
o These support plant growth, and cycle carbon, nitrogen and other nutrients. Soil microbes are a source of antibiotics and may provide future drug discoveries. 
o Soils absorb and store water; their capacity to do so relies on good soil structure, which is maintained by soil organisms, organic matter and appropriate management. 
o Soils store three times as much carbon as is contained in the atmosphere; degradation of carbon-rich soils releases significant quantities of CO2. The ability of soil to perform these functions is reduced when it is degraded or eroded. 

There may be trade-offs between the different functions of soil; for example, increasing food production can be detrimental to water quality, carbon storage and biodiversity. Over half the world’s agricultural land is subject to soil erosion and 12m hectares are abandoned each year because of soil degradation due to unsustainable farming practices. 

Securing UK Soil Health - Arthur Rank

Success with No-till - under any conditions 

1 September 2015


Greater stability in long term crop performance is obtained through successful adoption of No-tillage in varying climates. No-till confers ability to traffic and absorb water better in wet periods, balanced with improved retention in drier times. Compaction should not be ignored, but dealt with in a variety of methods. Organic matter is the central cog for a living, working soil in a balanced rotation. No-tillage must be thought of as a system, not just a machine. Patience! 

This paper summarises a Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust Report by Russell B McKenzie which can be accessed at: http://nuffieldinternational.org/rep_pdf/1440676340RussMcKenzieeditedreportfinal.pdf

The report highlights the issues associated with crop establishment and varying weather patterns; longer periods of dry weather can prove to be as difficult to work with as periods of wet weather. But the one commonality that should be acknowledged with regard to both types of climatic conditions is that there is a system that allows you to live with both and cope in equal measure, without defaulting to using unnecessary cultivations. What has become clear throughout is that soil degradation is happening on a global scale and the wise are waking up to the realisation that farm practices need to adapt to reduce this burden and begin to stop the loss of organic matter and soil in the process. In the various countries visited the implications of wind and water erosion have been highlighted and their impact understood resulting in a better understanding of what the long term benefits are. 

Success with No-till - under any conditions - Arthur Rank

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