It has been noted that in the last 40 years in the UK that soil in agricultural lands have had a fall in the number of soil fauna much of which benefits soil fertility and the fall is worrying proof that continual intensive crop production with modern machinery is damaging the soil.
Soil supports an entire ecosystem which provides us with every food we consume. The animals we eat grew up eating those plants; the plants we eat obviously take their nutrients from the ground. If there is a lack of nutrients in the soil (corn grown over and over again in a single field without alternating with other crops can, over time, drain the soil's natural nutrients), the food grown is not nearly as high-quality. And if the soil itself is not able to support the crops grown in it, it will require more pesticides and more artificial nutrients in order for the food to grow to the farmer's liking.
Roviding the basis for food and biomass production
Unless sealed (covered over by roads, buildings, etc.), all soils support biomass production, whether it is natural vegetation or planted for agriculture and forestry. From the smallest seedling to the largest tree, all land-based vegetation depends on soil to provide them with nutrients, water and root support. In turn, this vegetation supports animal life on land.
The productivity of soil is dependent upon its physical and chemical conditions, as well as on climate. The most productive soils are usually used for arable farming and less productive soils support grassland, heathland and forests. Currently, around 75% of land is used for food production; however, future needs (e.G. Biofuel production, urban development) may result in competition for this high quality agricultural land resulting in further pressure on soil.
Controlling and regulating environmental interactions- regulating water flow and quality
Soil and water quality are very closely linked and, to a significant extent, soil properties determine water quality. As water passes through soil it is filtered and purified which helps to generate clean and wholesome groundwater. This process also includes the removal of nutrients thereby reducing the risk of water eutrophication (the process by which water bodies become enriched by nutrients).
Soils also store water; in fact, Scottish soils can store more water than is held in all Scottish freshwater lochs. The storage of water and its slow release regulates water flow thereby reducing the risk of flooding.
However, soils have a finite capacity for storing water, nutrients and pollutants. Once the storage capacity is exhausted no further storage can occur. This can result in the excess being released from the soil, potentially resulting in water pollution or flooding.
Roviding valued habitats and sustaining biodiversity
A habitat is a place that provides an organism with everything that it needs to survive, including food and shelter. Soil is a very complex habitat, sustaining a diverse range of organisms both above and below ground.
Biodiversity is the term used to refer to all the variety of life on Earth. It consists of all species, varieties and genes living both above and below ground.
Biodiversity above and below ground is influenced and controlled by soil properties. Scientists believe that soil biodiversity is much higher than in any other terrestrial habitat, even rainforests.
Whereas above ground biodiversity is relatively well known and understood, most soil organisms are still unknown and not yet scientifically described. The largest group of soil organisms are micro-organisms such as bacteria and fungi. It is believed that they may hold important genetic material that may be used for future drug development.
Providing a platform for buildings and roads
Buildings and infrastructure require land for their construction. The constant need for land for development has resulted in a gradual reduction in productive soil and land as they become permanently covered with roads and buildings.
Peak Soil may be a bigger issue than Peak Oil.
It takes a long time for soil to form and is the basis for terrestrial plant life, agriculture and our entire food chain.. If forms from a combination of inorganic (rock and rain dissolved minerals) and organic matter (decayed leaves, grasses, insects, animals, trees, etc.), yet we treat soil with very little respect. We till it up, dig it up, move it about . And we are losing a lot of it to runoff and erosion.
Call me alarmist , fine. Many people prefer the" ignorance is bliss" mindset. But look at the Mississippi river. It is one long mud bath carrying our farmland from the Midwest into the Gulf of Mexico. Unless we develop ways to continue to achieve the increased crop yields we need for a growing world population without losing our soil in the process, we could be in trouble.