Soil is teeming with life, full of nutrients and packed with goodness that is essential for growing the crops that feed the world. These five facts will give you a new appreciation for the soil beneath your feet.
1. A colossal carbon sink. Soil is an important carbon sink storing 10% of the world’s carbon dioxide – more than all terrestrial vegetation and the atmosphere combined. When soil is disturbed, or tilled, carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere where it is a major contributor to global warming.
2. The triumph of no-till. No-till agriculture keeps carbon in the soil and because it requires fewer field passes it uses less fuel than tillage. In 2012 alone, the amount of CO2 saved by using herbicide-tolerant biotech crops – that help facilitate no-till – was equal to removing every single car from the streets of London for five years!
3. Centuries to build centimeters. It can take more than 500 years to form two centimeters of topsoil – the outermost layer of soil which has a high concentration of nutrients and is crucial for crop growth. Avoiding soil disruption helps keep this top layer healthy and productive.
4. Billions of bacteria. Soil is home to billions of living microorganisms which recycle organic material to maintain soil fertility and support plant growth. One cup of soil may hold 7 billion bacteria – the equivalent of our world’s human population!
5. Huge landscape losses. Globally, up to 50,000 square kilometers of topsoil – an area around the size of Costa Rica – is lost every year mainly due to wind and water erosion. By using herbicide-tolerant crops, farmers don’t need to till the soil to remove weeds so soil retains its structure and erosion is reduced.