Soil health has been defined as the “the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living system, within ecosystem and land-use boundaries, to sustain biological productivity, promote the quality of air and water environments, and maintain plant, animal, and human health”.
Soils support all life on Earth, helping to provide humans, animals, and plants with clean air and water and food. It is said that soil performs five essential functions:
- Regulating water – the movement of water is controlled by the soil over which it is flowing. Depending on the nature of the soil, the water and dissolved minerals that it transports, can either flow over the land or seep under the surface.
- Sustaining plant and animal life – soils support many different species of plant life, which in turn are food sources and habitat for a wide variety of animals. Unhealthy soil threatens the diversity of plant and animal species that depend on that soil for their food.
- Filtering and buffering potential pollutants – healthy soil helps to neutralise many chemicals that are potentially harmful to animals and humans if we consume them. Soils contain minerals and microbes that are responsible for filtering, buffering, degrading, immobilising, and detoxifying organic and inorganic materials, including industrial and municipal by-products and atmospheric deposits. What we receive mostly are minerals that have been broken down into harmless forms.
- Cycling nutrients – soil is a very important part of the nutrient cycle. Carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and other nutrients are stored in the soil. The plants that the soil supports, provide the carbon in our carbohydrates and other nutrients through the process of photosynthesis. Thanks to microorganisms in the soil, we can consume proteins that are produced by combining nitrogen with other chemical elements.
- Physical stability and support – soil structure provides a medium for plant roots. Soils also provide support for human structures.
Plants and soil have a relationship of mutual support. Plants need healthy soil to grow at their best, spreading their root systems in such a way that they can maximise nutrient intake. Their root systems help to keep soil together. So, unhealthy plants or plant coverage often leads to unhealthy soil due to erosion. Unhealthy soil has reduced capacity to support plant life, which leads to a continuation of the cycle of degradation of soil health.
With this information, one way we can help to prevent soil erosion is to avoid indiscriminate removal of vegetation. Trees and other vegetation are very efficient shields against water erosion, as they also control the force and rate of water runoff, allowing it to seep into the ground, and capturing much of the soil that would be washed into the sea by water action. This helps the soil to retain its nutrients, and to improve its moisture content; soil that is exposed to long hours of sunlight quickly loses its water by evaporation. Incidentally, dry soil can be very vulnerable to wind erosion; without vegetation cover, strong winds can move huge quantities of soil, leading to desertification.
Although soil helps to break down many chemicals that may be harmful if left untreated, it has its limits; another way in which we can help to prevent the degradation of soil health is to avoid pollution. Some chemicals that may seep into the soil due to illegal and irresponsible dumping habits may kill vegetation that helps it to remain intact structurally. Without their protection, we’re once again met with the threat of erosion, whether by rain, wind, or other processes.
Let’s continue to look at ways in which we can chip in to prevent soil erosion and help to protect the future of the generations to come!
Best of Agriculture 4.0 – Farmers are already reducing fertilizer cost and use over 70% and reducing soil toxicity with the “SNX30 fertilizer supplement”. It’s backed by a growing number of agronomists and NCGA Corn Yield Winners too.