Video | Business Headlines | Internet | Science | Scientific Ethics | Technology | Search

 

Scientist’s Dire Warning about Destruction of Soil

Scientist’s Dire Warning about Destruction of Soil

July 1, 2014

An international soil scientist is calling on the government to focus attention on the most important issue facing the world, soil quality.

Dr John Baker says, while the issues of global warming and water and air quality are frequently debated, soil quality is ignored.

He says 90 percent of our food comes from annually-sown crops growing in soil and, in the next 20-30 years, nations have to find a way of producing more food from the same amount of soil.

“Soil feeds us. It’s as simple as that,” Dr Baker says. “Yet we are pre-occupied with climate change while people are going hungry and we haven’t addressed the urgent need to feed another 50 percent of our population by 2050.”

“The government and its ministries can provide leadership on this by recognising how we’ve been raping our soils for years and introduce measures to restore the essential nutrients.”

This message is being conveyed to the annual Cross Slot Conference in the American State of North Dakota this month and then to a seminar in England by Bill Ritchie, the General Manager of Baker No-Tillage.

The conference is being attended by up to 50 delegates from six countries and the line-up of speakers includes the Agriculture Commissioner for North Dakota, Doug Goehring.

Bill Ritchie, who has an M.Ag.Sc in Agricultural Engineering, is seeking to meet with the Commissioner to discuss the importance of agricultural sustainability.

Dr Baker says for generations the world has been stripping the soil of carbon and organic matter and giving nothing back.

“Every time we cultivate the soil we oxidise some of its carbon and discharge it into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. We have never made a serious attempt to replace this soil carbon that we’ve removed,” he comments.

“This source of carbon dioxide contributes up to 20 percent of the total carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere each year. Politicians get on the global warming bandwagon but never address one of the main causes that can be reversed.”

Dr Baker explains that carbon dioxide can’t be seen because it’s a colourless, odourless gas. They can see plenty of dust during ploughing and people presume it will settle somewhere in time. But sadly amongst the dust is carbon dioxide that disappears into the atmosphere unnoticed he says.

“The end result is that the organic matter and carbon levels in all of the world’s arable soils have declined cumulatively over the long period that’s elapsed since man began tilling the soil,” he comments.

“Most of the world’s arable soils that, may have had 6-16 percent of organic matter before ploughing, now have 0-1 percent as a result of tillage operations.

“That low level of organic matter won’t support the soil biology which lives on organic matter.”

By soil biology Dr Baker means the microbes and other soil organisms like earthworms that teem in healthy soil. These soil microbes hold the soil particles together and stop it eroding through the exudates they secrete.

They all play a significant part in maintaining healthy soil but they’re being destroyed. Surface microbes decompose crop residue into compounds and elements, especially carbon, that are taken into the soil by earthworms and other soil biology, other microbes fight and destroy common plant pathogens and diseases, mycorrhizal fungi form symbiotic relationships with plant roots that increase the amount of nutrients and water taken up by these roots and still other small animals eat soil organic matter and deposit their excreta as nutrient rich casts.

Dr Baker says the list is numerous but the key question is whether the cumulative stripping of soil organic matter can be reversed.

He acknowledges that spreading lots of organic manure on the ground certainly helps but the world’s arable soils are far too extensive for this to be a total solution.

Even blowing tractor exhaust into the ground doesn’t create a long term benefit because only five percent of the total carbon released into the atmosphere during tillage comes from the tractor exhaust in the first place.

He says plants themselves play an important part in the regeneration of the soil. The sown plants gather carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and combine this with rainfall and the sun’s energy in a process known as photosynthesis.

“The amount of carbon gathered by photosynthesis is massive and it’s nature’s way of recycling carbon,” Dr Baker explains.

“When farmers harvest a food crop like wheat about half of the plant’s carbon is removed as food which is acceptable but the other half remains available for recycling in the form of cut straw, stubble and other forms of crop residue.”

It is this stage of the process that is crucial to regenerating the soil and reversing the rape of its nutrients which will, in turn, lead to increased food production that will feed the world.

Dr Baker, who has a MAgr.Sc in soil science and a Ph.D in agricultural engineering, is adamant that low disturbance no tillage is the answer.

He emphasises that the residue or vegetation referred to should remain on top of the soil and not worked into it because the carbon gained from the buried organic matter is more than offset by the carbon lost during the working-in process.

A low-disturbance no-tillage drill sows seeds directly into undisturbed soil. It penetrates through the residue to create seed slots. It sows the seed while dropping fertiliser in a separate band at the same time, covers the slot, traps the humidity, preserves the micro-organisms and soil life and prevents most of the carbon from escaping into the atmosphere.

Compared to traditional methods, the crops grow faster and yields can increase by up to 50 percent. This technology also means that failures are greatly reduced when moisture is retained because the no-tillage drill only minimally disturbs the soil.

“The key fact is that such machines exist. Anything less will simply perpetuate the continued rape of our soils and will eventually lead to famine in some areas of the world with marginal food supplies,” he says.

In calling on the government to focus attention on preserving and restoring the quality of soil, Dr Baker says scientific research should monitor soils already undergoing true low-disturbance not-tillage regimes – some for more than 10 years – to estimate how long it will take to get the world’s arable soils back into full health and production.

Some have already achieved that status he says.

Dr Baker, who was a finalist in the 2013 World Food Prize, has recently appeared on BBC radio talking about how healthy soil.

ENDS

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
Business Headlines | Sci-Tech Headlines

 

Maritime NZ: NZ Joins Global Initiative Keeping Ports Open And Freight Moving

New Zealand has joined an international port authorities’ global initiative for safe and efficient movement of goods and shipping during the COVID-19 crisis. World-wide, 56 port authorities have agreed how they will work together facilitating maritime ... More>>

ALSO:

National: National Backs Businesses With $10k JobStart

National will provide a $10,000 cash payment to businesses that hire additional staff as part of our commitment to keeping New Zealanders in jobs, National Party Leader Todd Muller and Finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith have announced. Our JobStart ... More>>

ALSO:

DIY Law: Government Exempts Some Home Improvements From Costly Consents

Homeowners, builders and DIYers will soon have an easier time making basic home improvements as the Government scraps the need for consents for low-risk building work such as sleep-outs, sheds and carports – allowing the construction sector ... More>>

ALSO:

Media Awards: The New Zealand Herald Named Newspaper Of The Year, Website Of The Year At Voyager Media Awards

The New Zealand Herald has been labelled a “powerhouse news operation” as it claims the two biggest prizes – Newspaper of the Year and Website of the Year – along with many individual awards at the 2020 Voyager Media Awards Website of the ... More>>

ALSO:

ASB Bank: ASB Takes The Lead Again With New Low Home Loan Interest Rate

ASB has moved again to support its customers, cutting a number of home loan rates, including the two-year special rate to a new low of 2.69% p.a. Craig Sims, ASB executive general manager Retail Banking says the reduced rate will be welcome news for many ... More>>

ALSO:

Nathan Hoturoa Gray: The Problems With Testing And Case Statistics For Covid-19

To begin to understand disease transmission in a country requires adequate testing of your population with properly vetted, accurate tests. As the world struggles to find what 'adequate percentage' of the population is necessary, (estimates predict ... More>>

ALSO:

RNZ: Fletcher Building To Lay Off 1000 Staff In New Zealand

The construction company will cut around 10 percent of its workforce as it struggles with the fallout from Covid-19. More>>

ALSO:

Can Pay, Won't Pay: Cashflow Moves Urged

Government Ministers are asking significant private enterprises to adopt prompt payment practices in line with the state sector, as a way to improve cashflow for small businesses. More>>

ALSO:

Gordon Campbell: On Why We Should Legally Protect The Right To Work From Home

For understandable reasons, the media messaging around Level Two has been all about “freedom” and “celebration”, but this is not necessarily going to be a universal experience. When it comes to workplace relations, Level Two is just as likely to ... More>>

ALSO:



Auckland Airport: Thousands Of Kiwis Travelling For Queen’s Birthday Weekend


Confidence in domestic travel is beginning to steadily ramp up, with thousands of Kiwis travelling within New Zealand for Queen’s Birthday.
Nearly 400 flights will be operating to and from Auckland Airport over the long weekend... More>>

ALSO:

Science Media Centre: Understanding 5G Concerns – Expert Q&A


Recent attacks on cell phone towers have brought concerns over the rollout of 5G technology into sharp relief.
While scientific research has consistently shown that the technology does not adversely affect human health, public concerns about its impact have spread around the world, fueled in part by growing misinformation online. The SMC asked experts to comment... More>>

ALSO:


Trade: Record Monthly Surplus As Imports Dive

Imports in April 2020 had their biggest fall since October 2009, resulting in a monthly trade surplus of $1.3 billion, Stats NZ said today. “This is the largest monthly trade surplus on record and the annual goods trade deficit is the lowest ... More>>

ALSO:


Media Blues: Stuff Chief Executive Buys Company For $1

Stuff chief executive Sinead Boucher has purchased Stuff from its Australian owners Nine Entertainment for $1.
The chief executive was returning the company to New Zealand ownership, with the sale is expected to be completed by 31 May.
"Our plan is to transition the ownership of Stuff to give staff a direct stake in the business as shareholders," Boucher said in a statement.... More>>

ALSO:

RNZ: Bar Reopening Night 'much, Much Quieter'

Pubs and bars are reporting a sluggish first day back after the lockdown, with the fear of going out, or perhaps the joy of staying home, thought to be a reason for the low numbers. More>>

ALSO:

Stats NZ: New Zealand’s Population Passes 5 Million

New Zealand's resident population provisionally reached 5 million in March 2020, Stats NZ said today. More>>

NIWA: Seven Weeks Of Clearing The Air Provides Huge Benefits: Scientist

Seven weeks of lockdown has provided evidence of how pollution can vanish overnight with benefits for the environment and individuals, says NIWA air quality scientist Dr Ian Longley. Dr Longley has been monitoring air quality in Auckland, Wellington ... More>>

ALSO:

Government: Milestone In Cash Flow Support To SMEs

A significant package of tax reforms will be pushed through all stages in Parliament today to throw a cash flow lifeline to small businesses. More>>

ALSO: