Nowadays it seems like “Soil Health” is a term that is referenced frequently by ecologists, scientists, politicians, and even fashion brand representatives, all of whom are under the impression that their respective audiences comprehend both its meaning and importance. But what if you don’t really understand it at all? News flash: you’re not alone.
Soil health is just a fancy way to refer to the quality of the soil and is defined by the United States Department of Agriculture as “the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans.” Healthy soil’s physical, chemical, and biological properties work together to support plant growth with essential functions such as cycling nutrients, controlling plant pests, and regulating the water supply.
Source- https://www.flickr.com/photos/87743206@N04/8053620812 (Accessed 7 June 2021)
An increase in soil quality (or soil health) is characterized by an increase in organic matter, which leads to better microbial activity. The Rodale Institute (2020), The Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2020), and The Yale Center for Business and the Environment (2021), argue that soil quality can be improved by implementing regenerative agricultural practices, while others claim that healthy soil can sequester up to six times the typical amount of carbon through photosynthesis. Healthy soil mitigates flooding, improves water quality, and produces better crops and textiles! So, what are these practices? At the most basic level, with an understanding that these should be tailored to each agricultural and environmental ecosystem, there are four principles of regenerative agriculture: 1) Minimize or eliminate land tillage 2) protect the soil 3) Increase Biodiversity and 4) Minimize synthetic inputs.
Source- https://pixabay.com/photos/green-soil-nature-macro-plant-5381605/ (Accessed 7 June 2021)
According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS, 2001), 33% of the world’s land is degraded, meaning that the soil has suffered an actual or potential loss of productivity due to natural or anthropic (human) factors. Poor soil health can also result from mismatching the crops used in certain soil conditions, which emphasizes the need to understand what grows best in each agricultural ecosystem. The global fashion industry is the 2nd biggest industrial polluter when taking into consideration the entire value chain. Poor soil management practices in the cultivation of GMO cotton, the production of wool and synthetic fibres, the overuse of chemical dyes, and the emissions created by the factories are just some of the ways in which fashion negatively contributes to climate change. Improving soil health is just one step in cleaning up the global textile supply chain, but if we want to start mitigating and even perhaps reversing climate change, let’s start with turning degraded dirt into healthy soil.
Ellen MacArthur Foundation. (July 2020).Case studies. https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/case-studies/regenerative-agriculture-at-scale.
FAO.org. Key messages | Global Symposium on Soil Erosion | Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (n.d.). http://www.fao.org/about/meetings/soil-erosion-symposium/key-messages/en/.
Natural Resources Conservation Service. Soil Health | NRCS Soils. (n.d.). https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/soils/health/.
NRCS Soils. (2001).Natural Resources Conservation Service. Land Degradation: An overview |. https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/soils/use/?cid=nrcs142p2_054028.
Yale Center for Business and the Environment. (2021). Regenerative Agriculture Initiative. . https://cbey.yale.edu/programs/regenerative-agriculture-initiative.
Scharping, N., Richardson, H., & Pearce, F. (n.d.) (2020). Soil as Carbon Storehouse: New Weapon in Climate Fight? Yale E360. https://e360.yale.edu/features/soil_as_carbon_storehouse_new_weapon_in_climate_fight.
Rodale Institute. (2020, September 29). Soil Health. https://rodaleinstitute.org/why-organic/organic-farming-practices/soil-health/.