Better For Soil

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OUR ABILITY TO GROW  FOOD IS UNDER THREAT 

British soil is in crisis*97

Organic is Better for the Soil

Soil Association Logo - Working With Organic Yard

PLEASE NOTE: Claims which are based on the higher standards of the Soil Association are italicised and in bold and marked with the Soil Association organic symbol and they do not apply across all organic farming.

Soil Association Logo - Working With Organic Yard
Soil Association Logo - Working With Organic Yard
Soil Association Logo - Working With Organic Yard
Soil Association Logo - Working With Organic Yard
Soil Association Logo - Working With Organic Yard
  • Organic farming is based on nourishing the soil*102

  • Organic farming is based on nourishing the plants by building healthy soils*103

  • Organic farming creates a healthy, living soil*104 *105

  • Organic farming builds soil fertility naturally*106 using compost and clover

  • Natural, sustainable soil fertility is encouraged through composting and crop rotation*107 with legumes to provide nitrogen, rather than energy- hungry synthetic fertilisers*108

  • Healthy soils protect underground water supplies by neutralising or filtering out potential pollutants. Increasing soil organic matter levels (through methods used by organic farmers)*109 can improve this function*110

  • Organic farming is better for the long-term health of the soil*111

  • Organic farms have healthier soils*112

  • Organic farms have a more diverse range of microbes living in the soil - this helps the crops to grow without artificial fertilisers*113 *114

  • Organic farmers use around 65% more manure and compost – this nourishes the soil and keeps it alive*115

  • Soil organic matter – the ‘living’ part of the soil – is higher on organic farms*116

  • Organic soils have more earthworms*117

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WHY SOIL MATTERS

Soil is the source of all life. Soil provides nutrients that sustain plants for food and energy, and anchors their roots. By absorbing, releasing and purifying most of the water on earth, it supplies us with drinking water, regulates excess rainfall and prevents floods.

• Around 95% of food production relies on soil*77

• Healthy topsoil is vital to our existence*78 

• Soils are home to a quarter of the Earth’s species*79

• One gram (a quarter of a teaspoon) of soil may harbour up to 10 billion micro-organisms (most of which are still unexplored)*80 *81

• Healthy soils absorb and store water - with the help of soil organisms, organic matter and good soil management *82 *83

• Soils store more carbon than the atmosphere, and all of the world’s plants and forests combined, which means that soil is one of our most important weapons in the fight against climate change*84

• A single hectare of soil has the potential to store and filter enough water for 1000 people for 1 year*85

• UK soils store around 130 trillion litres of water - more than contained in all UK lakes and rivers combined*86

• 10 billion tonnes of carbon is stored in UK soils*87

• Soils store 65% of the world’s fresh water*88

• Food security relies on sustainable soils*89

SOIL DEGRADATION

Soil is disappearing from farms, fertile earth is being degraded and lost.

  • Half of the topsoil on the planet has been lost in the last 150 years*90

  • Globally we lose around 30 football pitches of fertile soil a minute*153

  • One UN official stated that we may have fewer than 60 harvests left*91

  • The world loses 24 billion tonnes of soil every year*92

  • Over the last 40 years, almost a third of the world’s arable soils have been lost to erosion or pollution*93

  • European farmland is being lost at an unsustainable rate*94

  • Every year an area of fertile soil three times the size of Switzerland (12 million hectares) is lost globally*95

  • The UK has lost 84% of its fertile topsoil since 1850, with erosion continuing at 1cm to 3cm a year*96

  • British soils are in crisis*97

  • Soil degradation in England and Wales costs £1.2 billion every year*98 

  • It takes 100 years for just 1-2cm of topsoil to form, and soil that is lost to pollution or erosion will need hundreds or even thousands of years to recover on its own*99

  • One inch of soil takes over 500 years to form*100

  • We are losing soil 10-40 times faster than it’s formed*101

 

Image by Mike Erskine
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REFERENCES

*77. UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (2015), Healthy soils are the basis for healthy food production

*78. UNFAO (1983) UNFAO Soils Bulletin. Chapter 1: How soil is destroyed; Erosion destroyed civilisations.

*79. Natural England, 2015, Summary of Evidence: Soils

*80. Torsvik and Øvreås 2012, Microbial diversity and function in soil: from genes to ecosystems, Current Opinion in Microbiology, 5:240–245. 

*81. Roselló-Mora R, Amann R: The species concept for prokaryotes. FEMS Microbiol Rev 2001, 25:39-67.

*82. European Commission, 2012, The State of Soil in Europe, JRC.

*83. Palmer, R, and Smith, R, 2013, Soil Use and Management, 29 (4) pp. 567-575

*84. Ontl, T. A. & Schulte, L. A. (2012) ‘Soil Carbon Storage’ Nature Education Knowledge 3(10):35

*85. Environmental Audit Committee – Inquiry into Soil Health (2016) Written Submission from the Committee on Climate Change – 14th January 2016

*86. Environmental Audit Committee – Inquiry into Soil Health (2016) Written Submission from the Committee on Climate Change – 14th January 2016

*87. Environmental Audit Committee – Inquiry into Soil Health (2016) Written Submission from the Committee on Climate Change – 14th January 2016

*88. G. Sposito (2013) Green water and global food security. 12, 0 doi: 10.2136/vzj2013.02.0041

*89. Amundson, R. et al. (2015) Soil and human security in the 21st century. Science, 348, 6235

*90. Pimentel et al. (1995) Environmental and Economic Costs of Soil Erosion and Conservation Benefits, SCIENCE, 267, 5201: 1117-1123. 

*91. Maria Helena-Semedo speaking at the World Soil Day Forum (2014) ‘Only 60 years of farming left if soil degradation continues’, covered by Chris Arsenault, Scientific American, Reuters. Available here. Same estimation by Professor John Crawford, University of Sydney in an interview with TIME magazine (2012) ‘What if the world’s soil runs out?’, World Economic Forum, TIME magazine, Dec 14th 2012.

*92. United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (2017) Global Land Outlook. Full Report, p52. 

*93. Cameron, D. et al (2015) ‘A sustainable model for intensive agriculture’ Grantham Centre briefing note, December 2015, University of Sheffield, available online.

*94. Professor John Crawford, University of Sydney in an interview with TIME magazine (2012) ‘What if the world’s soil runs out?’, World Economic Forum, TIME magazine, Dec 14th 2012.  

*95. United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (2014) Desertification: The Invisible Frontline. Second edition, p2.

*96. Environmental Audit Committee – Inquiry into Soil Health (2016) Written Submission from the Committee on Climate Change – 14th January 201698. Graves et al. (2015) The total cost of soil degradation in England and Wales. Ecological Economics, 119, 399-413.

*97. Graves et al. (2015) The total cost of soil degradation in England and Wales. Ecological Economics, 119, 399-413.

98. Graves et al. (2015) The total cost of soil degradation in England and Wales. Ecological Economics, 119, 399-413. 

*99. Jones, A., et al. (2012) ‘The State of Soil in Europe’ A contribution of the JRC to the European Environment Agency’s Environment State and Outlook Report - SOER 2010, available online.

*100. Pimentel et al. (1995) Environmental and Economic Costs of Soil Erosion and Conservation Benefits, SCIENCE, 267, 5201: 1117-1123. 

*101. Pimental (2006) Soil Erosion: A food and environmental threat. Environment, Development and Sustainability, 8 (1), p.119-137. 

*102. Soil Association Standards for Farming & Growing v. Jan 2020. Standard 2.4.1

*103. Soil Association Standards for Farming & Growing v. Jan 2020. Standard 2.4.1

*104. Soil Association Standards for Farming & Growing v. Jan 2020. Standard 2.4.1

*105. Henneron, L et al. (2015) ‘Fourteen years of evidence for positive effects of conservation agriculture and organic farming on soil life’, Agronomy for Sustainable Development, 2015, 35:1 169 – 181 doi:10.1007/s13593-014-0215-8. This study found that both conservation and organic systems increased the abundance and biomass of all soil organisms except predaceous nematodes. For example, larger soil organisms increased from 100 to 2,500%, nematodes from 100 to 700%, and microorganisms from 30 to 70%. For more information about how organic agriculture supports healthy soils, see briefing by IFOAM Organics International, ‘Organic agriculture and healthy soils’, published online.

*106. Soil Association Standards for Farming & Growing v. Jan 2020. Standard 2.4.1

*107. Soil Association Standards for Farming & Growing v. Jan 2020. Standard 2.4.1

*108. V. Smil (2011). Nitrogen cycle and world food production. World Agriculture 2, 9–13

*109. Tuomisto et al. (2012) Does organic farming reduce environmental impacts? A meta analysis of European research. Journal of Environmental Management, 112, December 2012, 309-320

*110. Bot, A. and Benites, J. (2005), ‘The importance of soil organic matter: Key to drought-resistant soil and sustained food production’ United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, available online “soil organic matter enhances biological activity of soil organisms that detoxify and absorb excess nutrients that would otherwise become pollutants to groundwater and surface water supplies.”

*111. Henneron, L et al. (2015) ‘Fourteen years of evidence for positive effects of conservation agriculture and organic farming on soil life’, Agronomy for Sustainable Development, 2015, 35:1 169 – 181 doi:10.1007/s13593-014-0215-8

*112. Henneron, L et al. (2015) ‘Fourteen years of evidence for positive effects of conservation agriculture and organic farming on soil life’, Agronomy for Sustainable Development, 2015, 35:1 169 – 181 doi:10.1007/s13593- 014-0215-8. This study found that both conservation and organic systems increased the abundance and biomass of all soil organisms except predaceous nematodes. For example, larger soil organisms increased from 100 to 2,500 %, nematodes from 100 to 700%, and microorganisms from 30 to 70%. For more information about how organic agriculture supports healthy soils, see briefing by IFOAM Organics International, ‘Organic agriculture and healthy soils’, published online.

*113. Henneron, L et al. (2015) ‘Fourteen years of evidence for positive effects of conservation agriculture and organic farming on soil life’, Agronomy for Sustainable Development, 2015, 35:1 169 – 181 doi:10.1007/s13593-014-0215-8

*114. Lori et al. (2017) Organic farming enhances soil microbial abundance and activity. A meta-analysis and meta- regression. PLoS ONE 12(7):e0180442

*115. Tuomisto et al. (2012) Does organic farming reduce environmental impacts? A meta analysis of European research. Journal of Environmental Management, 112, December 2012, 309-320 “The main explanation for higher organic matter contents in organic systems was that organic systems had higher organic matter inputs. In the systems included in this meta-analysis, the organic matter inputs in the form of manure or compost were on average 65% higher on organic farms compared to conventional farms, when calculated as an average of the relative inputs by weight (organic/conventional) in each case.”

*116.Tuomisto et al. (2012) Does organic farming reduce environmental impacts? A meta analysis of European research. Journal of Environmental Management, 112, December 2012, 309-320

*117.Henneron, L et al. (2015) ‘Fourteen years of evidence for positive effects of conservation agriculture and organic farming on soil life’, Agronomy for Sustainable Development, 2015, 35:1 169 – 181 doi:10.1007/s13593-014-0215-8 “Organic farming improved mainly the bacterial pathway of the soil food web and endogeic and anecic earthworms.

*153.Lori et al. (2017) Organic farming enhances soil microbial abundance and activity. A meta-analysis and meta- regression. PLoS ONE 12(7):e0180442