Is Soil the Solution?

Soil has recently come to center stage in hot topic conversations as diverse as the future of food, climate change, and local economies. Soil is increasingly seen as the possible solution to our ills: not only potentially producing nutritious food, but also capturing and holding carbon to benefit our climate and helping us adapt with greater immunity to drought from a warmer world.

According to the USDA’s National Resource Conservation Service, soil health is defined as “the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans.” Soil is rightly getting its overdue recognition for the vital role it plays in food, fuel, shelter, and more. From nutrition, to sequestration of carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas), to its unpaid job of filtering water and producing lower cost local food, soils can be nearly magical! But we need our soils to be healthy.

Farm profits and yields of major U.S. crops are projected to decline by the middle of this century due to increased temperatures, droughts, and flooding and the harm they bring to crop and livestock production (Hatfield et al., 2014).

By adopting improved farm practices such as no-till, cover crops, and crop rotation, not only can farmers retain in soils the carbon that would otherwise be released into our atmosphere, but it also helps to battles drought thanks to greater moisture and nutrient retention – maximizing the precious resource we need to grow food and improving our water quality. The great news is healthy soils also increase income, reduce input use and costs, and open up new markets such as carbon markets in California and other regulated greenhouse gas markets.

With all of these opportunities, soil can be our solution, and increase our success of building resilience in a rapidly changing world.

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