Soil Health: Moving Beyond Conventional Agriculture
Updated: Feb 1
Exploring the Importance of Restoring Soil Equilibrium in Modern Agriculture
Soil health is an emerging concept in soil fertility that seeks to place biological characteristics on par with conventional nutrient chemistry and soil physical properties. This viewpoint challenges ingrained farming practices as well as conventional scientific modalities, the originators of the "control nature" mandate that has contributed to so much natural deterioration.
Healthy soil function arises only due to the fact that interactions of plants, microbes and soil-inhabiting animals have built and sustained this environment. In a natural setting, this is largely handled by nature. In managed environments, such as those found in agriculture, these normal interactive functions are at the very least significantly disrupted and more likely damaged. The question is how to restore their equilibrium.
Farmers are often characterized as not pursuing practices that favor soil building. However, agricultural-science itself is the source of many, if not most, poor farming practices. Science's modern emphasis in soil analysis has been to ignore biological factors of productivity in order to maximize yield through chemistry alone. Due to this, it is currently challenging to separate the "complicit" role of science and farming practices in soil degradation and carbon loss.
Historically, methods for testing soil have evolved slowly. Both soil improvement and soil deterioration occur very slowly over decades or centuries and are difficult to detect. There are new concerns regarding the sensitivity of soil test results to reveal relevant gains. Statistical analysis has shown, for instance, that it is impossible to measure soil carbon changes in less than two years without using hundreds of probes per field. For routine sampling, a resolution of 5 tons/carbon/acre or higher is nearly impossible.
While soil health and regenerative agriculture are becoming increasingly important in modern agriculture, the traditional focus of agricultural testing methods has been on optimizing yields and improving crop management. Now, soil health testing must creatively break down the barrier between organic and conventional agriculture and initiate a new dialogue. Now, pressure is mounting on ag organizations, farmers, and consumers to acknowledge the scientific value of moving beyond chemical-nutrients tests, which have spectacularly failed to protect our soil, water quality, and ecosystems as a whole.
In order to achieve desired results, it is important to understand the intended use and limitations of each tool, and choose the most appropriate one for the job at hand. When you alter your perspective, the things you observe alter as well. As our understanding of the significance of soil health increases, new testing methods will be developed or existing methods will be modified to reflect this new emphasis on soil health and regenerative agriculture.