International Year of Soil

Czech researchers use model to evaluate soil degradation

By Kaine Korzekwa, Crop Science Society of America

Soil is strong yet fragile, reliable yet unstable, and resilient yet susceptible to change.

These are all especially true when humans and their need for food enter the mix. Large amounts of evidence show soils are declining worldwide because of poor land use practices and soil management.

To study the issue of soil degradation in the Czech Republic, Borivoj Sarapatka and his team at Palacký University developed a way to model soil vulnerability by combining several indicators of soil degradation.Their work was recently published online in the Journal of Environmental Quality.

Various organizations have performed long-term research throughout the Czech Republic on the individual factors that can damage soil. But no one has synthesized these findings into a model to illustrate the current state of Czech soil. Sarapatka and his team set out to combine different databases into a robust, comprehensive, and first-of-its-kind model.

To do this, the researchers identified two categories of degradation factors: physical and chemical. The physical factors consist of water and wind erosion and soil compaction. The chemical factors include heavy metal contamination, soil acidification, and loss of organic matter.

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Healthy ground: Future generations depend on us to keep soil healthy

Now that we’re finally receiving moisture in some parts of the state, it’s time to assess condition of our soil and determine if our current land management practices improve soil health or cause it to deteriorate. Soil health is directly related to ranch productivity and has a tremendous influence on the future life style of our children and grandchildren.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, world population is projected to increase from 7 billion in 2013 to more than 9 billion in 2050.

Fourteen million acres of prime farmland in the United States was lost to development from 1982 through 2007. Improving soil health is a key requirement for long-term, sustainable agricultural production and soil conservation is not just the farmer’s job. We all are responsibile for maintaining soil in good condition, regardless of how we use the land.

Soil Health Key Points, a fact sheet published by NRCS lists “four ways to begin your path to healthy soils” lists:

Keep it covered

A covered soil holds more water by binding it to organic matter and loses less water to runoff and evaporation. The amount of organic matter increases in soil when it is covered by vegetation and dead plant material residue. Organic matter holds 18 to 20 times its weight in water and recycles nutrients for plants to use. One percent organic matter in the top six inches of soil holds approximately 27,000 gallons of water per acre.

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The science of a soil test

With harvests winding down, the farm’s focus might turn away from the fields. According to specialists at the University of Missouri, now is just as good as ever to find out what your ground needs.

One way to start planning for next year’s growing season is to get a soil test, and MU’s Soil Fertility Labs are there to help.

A soil test is like taking an inventory of nutrients available to plants—which area is too high, too low or just right. While plant growth and prior yields may offer clues to nutrient availability, a producer won’t precisely know until they test their soil.

“We can tell you what is going on below your feet,” said David Dunn, MU Extension soil testing lab associate. “We are all about giving recommendations for farmers to achieve the yields they want.”

Dunn helps manage the Soil Fertility Lab at the Fisher Delta Research Center, one of the many Agricultural Research Centers operated by the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. A second lab is located on the MU Campus in Columbia.

Each year the lab in Portageville analyzes around 10,000 soil samples. With each test, producers get a detailed report on pH levels; available phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium; organic matter; acidity and cation exchange. These basic tests provide the necessary data to develop nitrogen, phosphate, potash and agriculture lime recommendations for intended crops.

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Seeds and Soil vs. the Tyranny of Corporate Power: A 2015 Message of Hope

It has been declared ‘the International Year of the Soil,’ but the year ahead, according to Dr. Vandana Shiva, will also see key developments in the global fight to overthrow corporate power with true democracy.

Last year, the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organization officially declared that 2015 would be celebrated as the International Year of the Soil citing the threat to one of the key ingredients to the planet’s food and farming systems posed by “expanding cities, deforestation, unsustainable land use, pollution, overgrazing and climate change.”

“In the seed and the soil we find the answers to every one of the crises we face. The crisis of violence and war; the crisis of hunger and disease; the crisis of the destruction of democracy.” —Dr. Vandana Shiva

Though many recognize the FAO declaration as a largely symbolic gesture, many advocates of organic food and sustainable agricultural are planning to seize the designation as a way to push forth their message that the health of the planet’s soil should not be relegated as a metaphorical issue, but rather one that should be at the very heart of serious conversations and policy changes humanity must begin in order to transform its economic systems, its democracies, the way it generates power, and the way it feeds itself.

Dr. Shiva says that within ‘the soil lies the answer to the problems oil has created’ and that ‘organic gardens of hope everywhere’ and ‘farms that grow real food’ can be a powerful enough force to help upend the march of globalized neoliberalism that is taking the planet towards the brink of destruction. (Image: Magnus Franklin/flickr/cc)

Summarizing the issues at stake and the fight ahead, one of the world’s most prominent advocates for democracy and organic agriculture, Dr. Vandana Shiva, an Indian activist and founder of the seed-saving organization Navdanya, has posted an impassioned New Years message to those battling on behalf of food sovereignty, economic egalitarianism, agroecology, climate action, and social justice.

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