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Save our soils with organic farming

Save our soils with organic farming

Soil erosion and degradation. It may not be a topic that leaps to mind when you think of exciting causes but maybe it should be – it’s an important one.
In fact, the President of the Soil Association, Monty Don, (as well as the rest of us who work here) believes soil erosion and degradation is the biggest conservation problem now facing our planet.

Save our soils with organic farming
We’ve been studying the effects it’s been having on our agriculture and our climate and believe the solution lies in organic farming. We recently held our National Soil Symposium to discuss what we can do - this is what we came up with.

What’s the situation?
Put simply, we are damaging our soils rapidly and without them, we can’t grow our food. The situation is serious – nearly a third of the land in the world used for growing crops has already become unproductive. And there is another problem – soils, like forests, can act as huge carbon sinks – storing vast amounts of carbon beneath the ground. When unhealthy they can become a net source of greenhouse gas emissions.

How can organic farming help?
Organic farming is a system that puts soil management at its very centre. A recent global study has found that soils in organic farms are not only healthier – they also store more carbon than conventional farming, another way to curb our emissions.

The Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change has said that if we manage our soils better, we could reduce global agricultural greenhouse gas emissions from around 30% to around just 3%! The results of this study clearly demonstrate that organic farming is well placed to help achieve this reduction.

Organically farmed soils also contain greater biodiversity, there are more earthworms and micro-organisms that help plants absorb hard to get nutrients and therefore grow better. By contrast, manufactured nitrogen fertilisers and pesticides, used in conventional farming, tend to depress soil biodiversity.

Organic soil is better prepared for climate change
Another benefit to healthy soils is that they cope better in extreme weather conditions - as they are more stable they can absorb more water and allow more to filter through. This means farming organically can make you better adapted to droughts, floods and erosion – things which may become increasingly common due to climate change.

Let’s invest in soil science
So organic farming provides us with a way in which we can stop our soils degrading, sequester carbon and adapt to the impacts of climate change. What’s really exciting to me however, is the fact that soil science still has a long way to go.

It was clear from the Soil Symposium that there are many ways we can improve organic farming techniques to help capture more carbon, improve our crop yields and the quality of what we grow. With exciting research and innovation happening in both the lab and the field, I think we will be hearing a lot more about soils and their importance in the years ahead.

Soil is something we should all care about – as Monty Don so beautifully said, “It all starts with the soil. The soil is our heart.”