Global temperatures increasing steadily at their fastest rates in millions of years? Glaciers calving and collapsing into the sea? The Atlantic Ocean lapping down the streets of Miami? Extreme weather and massive flooding. Front page news everyday.
Declining soil health may be less dramatic, but it is equally impactful and even more far-reaching. Over time, erosion, pollution, losses in organic matter, and other climate change impacts on the soil will imperil a very basic human need. Eating.
Founded and chaired by former US Vice President and Nobel Laureate Al Gore, The Climate Reality Project is dedicated to catalyzing a global solution to the climate crisis by making urgent action a necessity across every level of society. https://www.climaterealityproject.org/sites/climaterealityproject.org/files/Soil%20Health%20and%20Climate%20Change.pdf?utm_source=advocacy&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=general&utm_content=soil_health_ebook
One of the project authors, Chris Clayton, is the agriculture policy director of DTN/The Progressive Farmer and the author of The Elephant in the Cornfield: The Politics of Agriculture and Climate Change. He examines the conflict in rural American farming communities over climate change. “The idea that you could have millions of migrants moving all over the world because they can’t eat, and the disruption and instability created by that doesn’t get enough appreciation around the world.”
The Natural Resources Defense Council has the following guidelines:
1. MESS WITH IT LESS No-till is a method of farming or gardening successfully while minimizing any physical disturbance of the soil. Overworked, compacted soil is a hostile environment for important soil microbes. Chemical or biological additives can damage long-term soil health, disrupting the natural relationship between microorganisms and plant roots.
2. DIVERSITY, DIVERSITY, DIVERSITY Diversity creates a better, more productive environment for everything. Different plants release different carbohydrates through their roots, and various microbes feed on these sugars, returning all sorts of different nutrients back to the plant and the soil. Planting the same plants in the same location can lead to a buildup of some nutrients and a lack of others. By rotating crops, and deploying cover crops strategically, farms and gardens can be more productive and produce more nutrient rich crops, while avoiding erosion, disease and pest problems.
3. LEARN TO LOVE THE RHIZOSPHERE Every living plant has a rhizosphere; the area near the root where microbial activity in the soil is concentrated. It’s the most active part of any soil ecosystem. Providing plenty of easily accessible food to soil microbes helps them supply nutrients that plants need to grow. Alternating long-season crops or a succession of short-season crops followed by a cover crop and a healthy dose of fresh compost will build out a healthy and diverse rhizosphere environment for your plants.
4. COVER IT UP Bare soil is bad soil. It’s important to both allow crop residues to decompose so their nutrients can be cycled back into the soil and to keep the soil protected with cover, because left exposed to the elements, soil will erode and the nutrients necessary for successful plant growth will either dry out or quite literally wash away. Additionally, the rhizosphere discussed above will starve and diminish without plants to feed it.
According to a study published in the International Journal of Agricultural and Biological Engineering , “Society gains from no-tillage systems on both large and small farms by:
- much-diminished erosion and runoff
- less downstream sedimentation and flood-damage to infrastructure
- better recharge of groundwater, more regular stream-flow throughout the year, and the drying of wells and boreholes less frequent
- healthier ponds and lakes with reduced phosphorous nitrates leaching into the water from flooding over fertilized fields
- cleaner civic water supplies with reduced costs of treatment for urban/domestic use
- increased stability of food supplies due to greater resilience of crops in the face of climatic drought
- better nutrition and health of rural populations, with less call on curative health services.
After years of severe drought, the state of California, led by Governor Jerry Brown, has developed programs that place a financial incentive on the adoption of no-till techniques and healthy, soil practices. Exposed, compacted, soil would have washed away during the intense rains California recently experienced.
Until next time,