Last year Australia released its first national policy on soil – “The National Soil Strategy”. It sets out how Australia will value, manage and improve its soil for the next 20 years.
This national undertaking to manage this valuable and finite resource supports the critical importance of soil structure for the future of our environment and its biodiversity, human health, the economy, food security and the tackling of climate change. The strategy clearly outlines that healthy soils will improve the resilience of Australian communities and farm businesses to natural disasters (particularly drought);
Why is soil structure important?
Soil is the basis for human life – the future of our environment, economy, food, infrastructure, health, biodiversities and communities are all dependent on it.
Some key functions of a healthy soil:
- Provides a necessary environment for plant growth – including food crops and timber wood
- Filters and cleans our water and helps prevent natural hazards such as flooding
- Carbon storage to help mitigate climate change
- Contains large levels of biodiversity – essential to both the environment and to agricultural industries
- Human nutrition (soil provides nutrients to plants and animals which are then transferred to humans once consumed)
Soil health is a priority
Maintaining heathy soil is clearly important and we can all make difference with some simple practices :
Compost and microbial activity – Compost aids the production of microbes in the soil and can greatly improve its overall health and structure. If it’s a healthy soil, the microbes will do their job and break down the organic matter to create a richer, nutritious environment for plant growth. Poor soils will benefit from the compost boost and assist in regeneration.
Cover crops/native revegetation – plants, be it a cover crop for large scale farming or creating a garden where there was none, will slow soil erosion by reducing the damage rain causes as it reaches the ground. This helps retain our precious topsoil, which contains all the nutrients we so dearly need to keep our plants happy, and to keep it from running off into our rivers, lakes and oceans. Cover cropping or planting ground-covering plants builds the fertility in the soil by adding carbon and nutrients, increasing porosity with plant-root growth, thereby encouraging water and oxygen penetration.
No till/no dig gardens – are quickly becoming popular among home gardeners and small landholders and is an important part of Regenerative Agriculture. This method of gardening keeps soil structure complete, which in turn holds the air porosity, water penetration and helps prevent soil compaction (when soil particles are pressed together, resulting in reduced rate of both water infiltration and drainage). As soil health improves, less additions are required from the gardener/farmer to produce more from the same area. All the while, this creates a soil that is more resilient to extreme weather and decreasing pest and disease attack.
Mulch – It could be almost anything, such as leaves , wood chips or arborists clippings; alternatively use something a bit more ready-to-apply such as the products we can get from a landscape yard. Whatever you use, it will always be better than having bare soil. The more varied the mulch the more variety of nutrients will enter your soil. It is actually quite important to regularly change the types of mulch we use to encourage all kinds of bacteria to thrive in our garden and landscapes.
These 4 simple practices together will help in building us a better future. Better soil will enable the earth to sustain us, and we can leave this place we call home in a better state than when we arrived.