It took less than a century for the global population to explode from less than 2 billion people to 7 billion people today. It will take a great deal more coordination to ensure that the earth’s soils are able to provide for all those individuals' growing demand for food, fuel and fiber.
A 10-step plan for soil health, presented by the Nature Conservancy and the Soil Health Institute at the Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) 2016 conference last week, casts hope that by partnering with big food companies, U.S. farmers will steward soils to be more productive and resilient.
As this roadmap spanning research, economic and policy shows, we have a long way to go.
"It’s important to establish a time-bound, specific goal to restore soil health in the U.S.," said Michael Doane, director of Transforming Working Lands for the Nature Conservancy. "We must change the management paradigm to put soil health at the center of management practices, not at the side. We are at a BSR conference, not a farmer’s conference, because we need business leaders and policy leaders thinking about soil solutions."
The United Nations estimates that a 60 percent increase in food production will be required by 2050. Conversely, the carbon richness of U.S. agricultural soil has declined by about 60 percent since the Industrial Revolution. Since 1875, organic matter in soils declined from 6 percent concentration to 1.4 percent organic matter today.
To show just how disconnected consumers have become from the earth that produces their food, the speakers placed a glass Mason jar filled with rich, earthy soil at every table at the event. Participants were invited to open the jars and smell, see and touch a substance we take for granted, but that promotes crop health and society's overall resilience.