Soil, A Dirty Topic!

Blog By Dermot Moore

Soil. It is a dirty topic, but one we should explore if we are concerned with our future. 

Soil is at the centre of our food systems, providing the foundation for crop growth and food for livestock and, according to the UK’s Environmental Agency (2019), “delivers 95% of global food supplies”. 

Beyond just human systems, the ecological functions of soil include sequestering and transferring nutrients within an ecological cycle, carbon storage and release, water preservation, positioning of above-ground life and maintenance of its balance (including reduced disaster risk: flooding, landslides etc.).

By the sound of this, you might think soil is pretty key to the prosperity of human life and therefore is central to environmental protection efforts…

YOU WOULDN’T BE WRONG! (At least about the first part).
Evidence can be observed in real-time on European soil as the process of soil degradation rapidly increases.

“In the European Union (EU), 60-70% of soils are degraded as a direct result of unsustainable management practices and have lost significant capacity to provide ecological functions for various forms of life (EC, 2020b).”

Unless practices, such as chemical application to soil, over-cultivation, monoculture crop growth, limited crops in rotation, separation of crops and livestock (the list could go on) alter, degradation will continue at full throttle.

The continuation of current farming practices has the UK careering down a worrying path to ZERO topsoil within approximately sixty years! (See NFFN, 2017)

The government have implemented a post-Brexit environmental recovery scheme, but how it’ll be delivered is another matter. What will be included, and what will be omitted? 

Writing this piece from a perspective built on research and results from the UK’s emerging hemp industry, it is evident the role that this crop could play in the land regeneration process. However, current UK regulations around hemp growth limit its capacity to offer an immense amount of help to the UK’s soil recovery scheme… 

But now, the tide is shifting.

Image from: Brady, N. & Weil, Raymond. (1996). The Nature and Properties of Soil. - (19 recommendations)