The health of soil is crucial to its fertility and one measure of healthy soil is Soil Organic Matter. Anyone with green fingers will tell you that healthy soil is essential to growing plants and food. Without healthy soil, and lots of it, it would be impossible for farmers to produce food for us. Essentially, feeding the world starts, and ends, with healthy soil. We need to work together to save our food system's most vital asset: soil.
Soil sustains life. 95% of the food that we eat comes from soil. Animals, plants and people depend on it, and so does the planet…
Climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing our planet today. One massive contributor to our climate crisis is the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. But did you know that soil can store carbon? Healthy soils act as a carbon sink by drawing carbon down into the soil to store it. The International Panel on Climate Change said that 89% of all agricultural emissions can be mitigated by increasing soil carbon levels. Even if we took a low estimate of the amount of carbon that could be sequestered by healthy soil it is staggering. For example, if soil carbon matter was increased to 20% on all UK farmland, at least 1.3 million tonnes of carbon would be taken up by the soil each year. That is the equivalent of taking a million cars off the road! And it is not just carbon dioxide; healthy soil can also help reduce emissions of methane and nitrous oxide, two other gases contributing to climate change. The climate mitigation potential of soil is huge.
Not only do soils help combat climate change, they also help reduce the effects of climate change.
Healthy soil is essential to water storage and preventing floods and droughts. Healthy soil reduces the risk of floods, storing as much as 3,750 tonnes of water per hectare, the equivalent of one and a half Olympic swimming pools. Therefore, farmers can help to prevent flooding in their local areas. Healthy soil not only helps to prevent flooding but can also store water so that crops have a longer life when a drought kicks in. As climate change takes effect soil has a key role to play in reducing the impacts of changes in rainfall on the local area.
Soil can also improve water quality. Having healthy soil, with more organic matter, can improve water quality through filtering out pollutants. Healthy soil also has better soil structure and can reduce soil erosion through water damage.
Soil can help solve some of these massive issues facing the world today, but soil can also contribute to these issues if poorly managed. Soil not only stores carbon, but badly managed soil releases carbon into the atmosphere actually contributing to climate change. So, soil is both the issue and the solution. It is therefore essential that we act now.
Our soils are degrading at an alarming rate. We have taken soil for granted and now one-third of the world’s arable soils are degraded—and 75% of that is severely degraded. This leaves less than one-sixth of the land on earth suitable for growing crops.
The situation becomes even more urgent when we consider that it can take a thousand years for just one centimetre of topsoil to form, and right now we’re losing the equivalent of 30 football pitches of fertile soil every minute, costing around £45 million per year, of which £9 million is in lost production and reduced yields. We have reached the point of no return and to save our soil we need to change the way we farm for good…
Helen Browning CEO
Saving our soil is not only necessary but absolutely urgent. We are committed to improving soil health including increasing the organic matter in our soils (an important measure of soil health). But what are we doing to make this happen?
We know that the best farming innovations come from the farmers themselves. That is why we are working with farmers to come up with practical solutions to improve soil quality and increase soil organic matter. We are working with both conventional and organic farmers, in Innovative Farmers and GREATSoils field labs, to test changes to their farming methods that will improve their soil, improve cropping and have the potential to improve their business. Farmers like Chris have seen the benefits on their farm.
As a farmer, you’ll know just how much your business depends on your soil, a complex interconnected web of life, from earthworms to bacteria, all working together to provide the nutrients your crops and livestock need
Little of how this ecosystem works is fully understood. At the Soil Association, we certainly don’t have all the answers, but we’ve had soil at the heart of the organisation for over seventy years. We’ve pulled together some resources including stories from farmers who are reaping the benefits of investing in their soils. We hope you find them useful!
If you are a farmer or an avid gardener check out our resources for improving your soil.
Soil is a fundamental environmental resource and should be given at least the same level of protection as water and air and we need the Government to write soil policies that safeguard UK soils effectively. It has been great to see the Government’s commitment to prioritising soil health. The Government has committed to the 4 per 1000 initiative, which is an initiative to increase soil carbon levels by 0.4% annually. Secretary of State Michael Gove reiterated DEFRA’S commitment to soil when he attended our State of Soils parliamentary event in October. Now that this commitment has been made, the Government must act on its commitment and support steps to improve soil carbon levels and reduce soil erosion. We need the Government to improve incentives for farming practices that promote healthy soils and to fund research, like Innovative Farmers and GREATSoils, which demonstrates the advantages of improving soil to farmers. We are working hard to ensure that the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan and Agriculture Bill address multiple challenges that soil health is facing so that we end up with a comprehensive, joined-up Soil Strategy.
It can be done—but we need your help.
We have reached the point where we cannot continue with our ‘business as usual’ approach to farming. Our soils have degraded to such an extent that drastic action must be taken to stop the continued loss of soil fertility. However, the soil is so essential to life, to our food system, and to our planet that a quick fix just won’t do. As well as the changes that we have already spoken about, we need long-term solutions: there needs to be a fundamental change in the way we farm to work with the soil and not against it. Organic farming methods and principles are a massive part of this change in farming. The methods to help save our soils that we suggest for farmers are used in organic systems. By encouraging all farmers to adopt organic principles we can take a positive step towards saving our soil.
Every purchase we make is a vote for a system of producing food. Organic farms have been found to have, on average, 20% more organic matter in the soil. By buying organic you are voting for a system that is working towards achieving soil health.
We have reached the point of no return and we desperately need your support to continue working with farmers, policymakers, and businesses to save our Soil. Find out how you can help