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Soil renaissance!

The development of urban infrastructure over many years has had a detrimental effect on soil health.
The development of urban infrastructure over many years has had a detrimental effect on soil health.
Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

From the viewpoint here, significant portions of the disconnect discussed in the commentary last week has to do with the health of soils. Healthy soils don't require the intensive inputs, organic or otherwise, that cause the runoff of nitrates that seems to be at the heart of the controversy over organic agriculture. Healthy soils already contain many of the nutrients sought by the addition of manure. Productivity relative to inputs can be maximized in the healthiest of soils.

What has happened to degrade our soils? Quite a bit, actually. You might start by watching Dirt! The Movie, whose makers say, "Industrial farming, mining, and urban development have endangered the soil and resulted in cataclysmic droughts, starvation, floods, and climate change." These are compelling images of a problem.

Recently, the Farm Foundation announced their Soil Renaissance Strategic Plan, at the World Congress of Conservation Agriculture in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Specifically, the "Soil Renaissance seeks to reawaken the public to the importance of soil health in vibrant, profitable and sustainable natural resource systems. It seeks to make maintenance and improvement of soil health the cornerstone of land use management decisions."

Of course, as we experienced last week, the devil is in the details in these discussions. In developing the Strategic Plan, the Foundation sought help from leaders in agriculture, agribusiness, academia, government, and non governmental organizations. Those leaders first sought to define soil health, and they ultimately did so using the USDA definition: "The continued capacity of the soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals and humans."

"This definition is used by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service,” said Working Group Chair David Lindbo, Ph.D., of North Carolina State University and President of the Soil Science Society of America. “It sounds simple, but establishing a basis of understanding of what soil health concerns is the first step to move forward with universal acceptance of soil health as a critical need.”

Soil testing is an everyday practice among those whose business is growing things, but common, affordable soil tests treat soil as a chemistry experiment, not as a living thing. The Soil Renaissance seeks to change that. Other goals are to study the effect of soil health on return on investment for those in the business of farming, raising public awareness, and getting the research community fully on board.

Those who missed it can access last week's post below, under "suggested by the author".

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