Let’s look at why soil is so important, and why without good quality soil we wouldn’t last long at all.
As Philip Lymbery wrote in the book Dead Zone, soil is the foundation of life. If we don’t have healthy soil, we can’t grow crops to feed ourselves, our families and our animals.
Approximately ½ of the world’s usable land is used for agricultural purposes. Through modern day intensive farming practices, we are damaging the fragile eco structure of the soil and degrading the soil quality. A natural field will contain a variety of grasses, flowers, and wildlife which provide habitats for pollination. Land is naturally organic and is not controlled or altered by chemical pesticides. The natural changing of seasons brings a variety of plants and wild species that maintain the soil balance and support natural wildlife. Root networks hold the soil together and the ground has a high capacity to hold carbon. Land will be rested and rotated with a high insect and worm population, each doing its role in cultivating the soil and increasing nutrient density.
Soil and agricultural land with Intensive farming
When we change the land to intensively farmed mono crops or cattle pens, we take away the variety of wildflowers and lessen the availability for bees to pollinate. We take away the diverse mix of fauna and flora and forcibly cultivate the land with a high dose of chemicals to push growth to meet our demand. It’s important to note that these chemicals do not disappear, a lot we end up ingesting ourselves.
Single crops that are repeatedly grown on the same land destroy the soils fertility. The soil has no time to recover, and over time the soil quality decreases making it harder to grow crops, which in turn demands more chemicals to force the growth, and the vicious circle continues. This not only happens in the food industry but also the cotton industry.
With natural and carefully cultivated ground, soil structure and natural root networks support the land and can help prevent flooding and land slide. It also enables the land to hold more water to hydrate the crops. With intensive farming, these natural structures are taken away which can often lead to flooding or conversely drought.
Mono-crop culture is not only for our food, in the form or corn or wheat, but also to feed the animals used to produce enough meat to service our soaring demand for low priced animal produce. Soy crops are ever increasing to produce cattle feed, and palm oil plantations that are used to produce oil and meal are also on the increase. It can take hundreds of years to produce a centimetre of top soil, so it is vital we look after the land and protect our growing capabilities of the future before the damage is irreversible.
Intensively farming the land also takes away habitats for wildlife and can poison the local animal populations. Chemicals used on intensively farmed land run off fields into water networks poisoning aquatic life while damaging hedgerow wildlife and vegetation at the same time.
What can we do to protect our soil?
In my eyes, the two most in important actions we can take are to buy organic food and to lessen our demand for cheap, intensively farmed meat. If the demand for such gross amounts of meat is lessened, we will have less need to produce animal feed. Less natural land to be taken up with livestock pens and housing. We will have less waste, less carbon dioxide and less methane produced, which will have a hugely positive effect on the planet, not only to the land but reducing the contribution to greenhouse gasses.
By buying organic, we will be using less chemicals that will improve the soil quality and therefore its growing capabilities and diversity. Wildlife will flourish and our waterways will become cleaner along with improved soil carrying ability for both carbon dioxide storage and water holding capacity. Bee populations should increase, therefore our ability to support and maintain a natural pollination cycle.
It is our demand and consumerism habits that are causing the deterioration of our land. We need to be the ones to make and drive the change and improve the soil for ourselves and future generations.
For more information check out Soil Association