Soil is the foundation of life on Earth - Approximately 75% of calories consumed worldwide come from crops grown directly in soil and another 20% come from foods that indirectly rely on soil, like animal products and honey.
Soil doesn’t just support life though, it’s full of life itself! In fact, there are more microorganisms in a teaspoon of soil than there are people on Earth! Those microbes are essential for keeping soil healthy and productive. Microbes are responsible for nutrient cycling in soil, for aerating soil, for maintaining soil's structure, and aiding in soil's water retention and filtration abilities.
Their role in soil health contributes to our food sources, plant products, and supporting ecosystems. All of these services total to an estimated value of 1.5 TRILLION dollars per year worldwide!
Some soil practices can harm these organisms and degrade soil though. Chemical applications, general pollution, tilling, and leaving soil bare can all harm soil health. These practices disrupt and can even kill the microbes that keep soil productive, while also degrading the soil's structure and ability to support plants. Any harm to soil comes back to human populations too; Unhealthy soil can lead to lower crop yields, nutrient losses, erosion, water sedimentation, and a general decline of the surrounding ecosystem.
To help protect soil, practice the four principles of soil management:
These principles can be implemented through practices such as no-tilling, mulching, the use of buffers where appropriate, and cover crops. You should avoid tilling because it can disturb the soil’s living biomass and harm the organisms that cycle nutrients to create rich, dark, productive soil. Using diverse cover crops will help your soil because they reduce erosion, improve water retention, enhance the soil’s biomass, and they promote healthy organisms by providing living root systems and organic matter to the soil.
Simple soil management techniques like these can result in soil that reduces erosion, requires less nutrient inputs, manages heavy rain or drought more effectively, retains and filters water, and increases crop yields.
For more tips on promoting soil health and conservation, visit our resources page here!
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