Soils are the lifeblood of our country and our society, but many of us don’t know the first thing about soil structure, nutrient ratios or humus. Somewhat behind the scenes, soil erosion, nutrient depletion, water scarcity, salinity and the disruption of biological cycles have led to widespread land degradation, a fundamental and persistent problem. Healthy soils deliver productive agricultural yields, support ecosystems and biodiversity, stabilize climate through carbon storage, and are essential to maintaining environmental, economic and political stability. Applying compost to our soils is a critical step in restoring and maintaining the health of our soils.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, modern agriculture mines the soil for nutrients and reduces soil organic matter levels through repetitive harvesting of crops and inadequate efforts to replenish nutrients and restore soil quality. According to the Global Education Project, nearly one-third of the world’s cropland (1.5 billion hectares) has been abandoned because of soil erosion and degradation over the past 40 years. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates the total annual cost of erosion from agriculture in the U.S. is about $44 billion per year, or $247 per hectare of cropland and pasture.
Poor soil management extends beyond agricultural cropland to every front lawn, parcel of open space, or highway right of way. Our struggling soils are not just an abstract farm in the Midwest – it’s every section of degraded or altered land around us.
While soil management techniques in the U.S. have started to reverse the trend of increasing topsoil losses per year, our soils remain poorly managed in terms of carbon content. Better management techniques that return organic matter to the soil, such as through composting, can restore soil health and stability while sequestering carbon from the atmosphere.
Healthy soil gives us clean air and water, bountiful crops and forests, productive rangeland, diverse wildlife, and beautiful landscapes. Soil performs several essential functions:
- Regulating water – Healthy soil holds water and prevents erosion.
- Sustaining plant and animal life – The diversity and productivity of living things depends on soil.
- Filtering potential pollutants – The minerals and microbes in soil are responsible for filtering, buffering, degrading, immobilizing, and detoxifying organic and inorganic materials, including industrial and municipal by-products and atmospheric deposits. Our soils essentially act as our ecological immune system.
- Cycling nutrients – Carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and many other nutrients are stored, transformed, and cycled through soil.
Solution: Compost improves soil health.
Applying compost to soils improves soil health by
- Suppressing plant diseases and pests
- Reducing or eliminating the need for chemical fertilizers
- Promoting higher yields of agricultural crops
- Improving soil structure (tilth) which improves water holding capacity and erosion control, and improves drainage and permeability by keeping aeration channels open
- Buffering soil acidity
- Facilitating reforestation, wetlands restoration, and habitat revitalization efforts by amending contaminated, compacted, and marginal soils
- Cost-effectively remediating soils contaminated by hazardous waste
- Removing solids, oil, grease, and heavy metals from stormwater runoff
- Capturing and destroying 99.6 percent of industrial volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) in contaminated air
- Offering stronger protection against changing climate conditions (Sources: EPA and European Commission)