Peak Soil Warning

The farmers in my area have been flat out for the last few weeks seeding and thankfully, the rains have come after a very dry spell – an increasingly common situation in Australia.

Travelling back from my patch of dirt a few weeks ago I saw a huge cloud in the distance that initially looked like smoke aside from the reddish tinge. On getting closer, I could see that the cloud was dust stirred up by a farmer’s tractor; which was preparing a field for sowing. I remember wondering how much soil was being lost; whipped away by winds.

It’s a tough situation for farmers in this situation. The crops must be in by a certain date, even if it means sowing in less than ideal conditions.

I marvel at the rich soils I see in some other parts of the world – dark material; full of goodness. On my block, I really have no soil to speak of and I’m always amazed at how the mallee and saltbush is able to grow on such a poor foundation. The problem is, you can’t eat mallee and saltbush.

There’s a big difference between dirt and soil and the fact that soil is a diminishing resource was again recently highlighted at the Soil Carbon Sequestration conference held in Iceland last week.

According to the IPS  news item, every year, 12 million hectares of arable land is lost to degradation and in the past four decades, 30 percent of the planet’s food producing land has become unproductive due to erosion. This is in the face of population growth and the specter of having to feed many more people. We are somehow going to have to do a lot more with a lot less.

“Soils are like a bank account. You should only draw out what you put in. Soils are badly overdrawn in most places,” says said Rattan Lal of Ohio State University.

The fact that our soil bank account is so heavily overdrawn should be sounding alarm bells for everyone.

However, Mr. Lal also believes farmers and graziers could perform miracles in keeping carbon in the soil and through doing so, improve food production which would in turn help pull even more carbon out of the atmosphere. Good soil management practices have so many benefits.

The meeting being held in Iceland was significant in that by the late 19th century, 96 percent of Iceland’s forest had disappeared and half its grasslands destroyed by overgrazing. This resulted in poverty and starvation – today its landscape is still Europe’s largest desert.

Soil degradation isn’t just a farmer’s problem – it’s a problem for all of us. We need to ensure that farmers are properly supported in order to preserve such a vital resource – and to take a look at our meat and dairy rich diets that place so much demand on the land.


Peak Soil – Treating Our Earth Like Dirt