Did you know that soil accounts for 95% of world food production?
This means that nearly all the food we eat every day rely on soil well functioning, that’s why it is necessary to maintain soil health.
In this article we are explaining in detail what the expression “soil health” means and what this entails.
What is soil health?
Soil health refers to the capacity of soil to allow animals, plants and humans to pursue their existence and thrive.
Sometimes we hear soil health to be referred as soil quality, in fact, it is the quality of the soil that guarantees the sustainability of life. However, the expression soil quality seems to put the focus more on a single aspect of the soil, whilst the use of “health” conveys a more universal meaning.
Soil is considered as a living ecosystem, as a source of life for its inhabitants, for this reason we discussed its health. Soil becomes imperative to preserve the soil for future generations to come. Plus, it cannot exist if sustainable practices maintaining this ecosystem and strict regulations are put in place.
Luckily, soil is something that can be managed in order to guarantee its continuation for future generations, provide the necessary nutrients to grow plants, to absorb and store rainwater, do agriculture, supply food for animals and humans, continue the lives of fungi, bacteria and many other living creatures, maintain the biosphere and the ecosystem running.
To sum up soil health includes all the measures to keep the soil in a good quality stay for the upcoming generations and for the current purposes, just mentioned.
Why soil health?
Soil health is necessary because soil is an indispensable element in our lives, even if this is not often realised. We must make sure the functions carried out by the soil are not hindered. Let’s analyse why soil health is so important by discussing the functions of the soil in various spheres.
- Society: soil fosters urban development, by providing space and healthy foundations for buildings. It also promotes human health in many ways.
- Agriculture: it sustains plant growth, productivity and health.
- Animal husbandry: it provides food for animals, but also an ideal habitat for them.
- Food security: soil health entails also that the food that we and our animals eat is free from contamination and poisonous substances that can harm health.
- Water: soil stores and regulates water, this helps to manage the risk of flooding for example.
- Air: a healthy soil contributes to a better air quality, in fact, soil stores a lot of carbon, this minimises climate change. A soil of poor quality instead emits carbon.
- Pollution: thanks to its microorganism soil is able to filter and transform some polluting agents deriving from factories and to recycle them
- Biodiversity: soil is the habitat of some examples of biodiversity, such as earthworms, fungi and bacteria. These guarantees good growth for the plants and are useful for studies in the laboratory.
- Soil biodiversity: refers to the different types of living organisms that inhabit the soil, it is fundamental to preserve biodiversity in order to have fertile soil and therefore food.
Soil health is very important for a variety of factors. All of them must be taken into account before making any decision.
How do you know if your soil is healthy?
You may have started to wonder whether your soil is healthy enough to sustain its biodiversity and the safety of its produce, for example.
The answer is not straightforward, in fact, there is not a common universal framework to determine soil health. The practice of assessing soil health is a difficult one per se:
In fact, what it can be done to overcome the obstacles in measuring soil health is to evaluate each individual ecosystem, for example one way would be to measure CO2 release or microbial activity.
Soil health procedures are currently very utilised in the US, in South Africa and in Australia. The hope is that in time, there will be a global agreement on soil health benchmarks.