Maintaining a healthy ecosystem is the key to survival of all living beings. Plants, humans, animals, and all other living organisms play an important role in keeping a balance in the ecosystem for all creatures. Even crop growing relies on the good functioning of the ecosystem, so the plants used for agriculture can grow properly and provide nourishment for us. But we often ignore the importance of one other living being that is integral to our survival: the soil.
For us, the soil is seen as an inert growing medium which we walk on. And it’s how easily we discard the importance of soil health that can upturn any healthy ecosystem and put a stump on agricultural work by not knowing about the soil’s needs or how to properly manage it. This way we are unaware of how soil provides necessities for us to live and contributes to the sustainability of our environment.
Soil health or soil quality is the soil’s capacity to function well, being home to billions of bacteria, fungi and other microbes that help in crop production by contributing to a coactive ecosystem. The soil also provides clean air, water, forests, wildlife, etc. by actively performing these five main functions:
- Soil regulates water, deciding where rain, snowmelt, and irrigation water, along with dissolved solutes flow and penetrate through the land.
- It helps in the diversity and productivity of plant and animal life.
- The minerals and microbes found in the soil filter, buffer, immobilize and detoxify organic and inorganic materials that can either help or harm the soil.
- Nutrients such as nitrogen, carbon, phosphorus, among others, are stored, transformed and cycled in the soil.
- Soil structure provides physical stability and support for plant roots to grow in. It also gives stability for human structures and even protection for ancient archeological treasures.
Additionally, soil carries inherent and dynamic properties. Its inherent qualities are its natural ability to function which varies from one location or region to the other, depending on the geology, climate, and hydrology. This can be, for example, when the soil is sandy, it dries faster than clay, or if the soil has a bedrock near the surface, it has less space than deep soil for roots to grow in, but these characteristics don’t easily change.
A soil’s dynamic quality is how the soil progressively changes in how it is managed, particularly in agriculture. How you manage the soil for your crops can affect the organic matter in it, its structure, depth, and water and nutrient holding capacity, which in turn can be tricky and threatening to the ecosystem it belongs to for good plant growth.
Currently, soil grows 95% of the world’s food with the use of agriculture. It also filters pollutants from our drinking water, supports a quarter of the world’s biological diversity and sequesters carbon, as mentioned before. But as needs grow around the world, more crops are needed and risky measures with soil are being done. It can happen that farmers are not aware of the quality of the soil and use excessive or non-effective blends of fertilizers which can deteriorate the fertility of the soil and prevent crop growth.
Soil health is lost as the need for production grows. This is because it responds differently to its management, depending on its properties and landscape. As a result, the stability of soil health is threatened as agricultural practices are not properly measured.
Though lately there have been actions to maintain soil health, such as the Soil Health Card which is used to know the current status and change of soil quality that is affected by land management for the use of agriculture. It is an obligatory method for all crop growers that, might not know how to improve their soil health, and experience in crop growth proves to not be enough.
Measures and studies surrounding soil health and management help to maintain its function in the ecosystem, so it can continue to function for agriculture, but they need to be handled with precaution rather than from outside necessity in order for the measures to be effective. We must remember that soil is a living being that provides food, clean air, water, and stability for us, not some innate land we simply walk on. Its survival is a part of our own, and its health determines the balance of which we are all participants in.