The topsoil is the upper layer of the soil and is where 95% of the world is growing is food. In the past 150 years, close to half of the fruitful topsoil has disappeared, because of traditional farming practices, endangering the future of food production. This leads to increased soil pollution and the apparition of dead zones, as well as erosion of the soil.
In countries where farming is happening at a large scale, the soil erosion is happening 10 times faster than it can be restored, which leads to the conclusion that the topsoil could disappear in 60 years from now. If this happens, the earth could lose its ability to filter water, take in carbon and support farming.
Modern farming methods are disrupting nature
One of the main reasons topsoil has become so endangered is excessive farming due to the high demand for food in overly-populated areas. Farmers can’t cope with the large numbers of orders they receive and need to turn to other methods, such as intensive tilling and use synthetic fertilizers and pesticides in order to help crops grow faster and bigger. But it is precise because of those methods, why topsoil is now in danger to completely disappear.
While nations can overcome wars, conflicts, and misunderstanding, nobody can continue to live on a planet where there is no fertile land to grow crops on. This is why scientists and experts in agriculture are doing everything they can to draw everyone’s attention towards what could be an irreversible catastrophe.
For example, India is losing more than 5 million tons of soil every year, due to erosion. The reason seems to be the increased usage of pesticides, fertilizers, and insecticides. Most of those fertilizers are synthetic, which affects the nutrients responsible for the fertility of the soil. Excessive irrigation is another concern, as, over time, it can lead to secondary salinization, which will terribly affect soil and crops. To keep an eye on farming practices and promote the safe use of fertilizers, India’s Minister of State for Agriculture states they will continue to advocate soil tests, as well as Integrated Nutrient Management.
Over the years, farmers were looking for ways to make their crops bigger, but not necessarily better and were living with the wrong idea that, if the soil is not fertilized, nothing can grow and they will stop making money. The premise is extremely wrong. The only thing fertilizers do is overproduce. If goods are overproduced, then the prices are going to drop, because the market will be oversaturated.
Poor coal mining practices are raising concerns as well
Besides invasive farming methods, another reason for topsoil pollution. In 2018, Coal India’s registered production growth of over 15%, compared to 2017. While the company’s production is increasing and the numbers seem to be looking good, the concern is being raised regarding overburden removal.
In India, coal mining is performed opencast, which means the topsoil is removed in order to expose areas where minerals are being extracted. While in other areas, overburden removal is decreasing alarmingly (16% in Northern Coalfields and 21% in Bharat Cocking Coal, based in Dhanbad), Mahanadi Coalfields based in Sambalpur seems to be running against the current and increasing overburden removal by 1.8%. Experts say that these numbers could be exposing poor and unsafe practices, which could put both the earth and the miners in danger.
What is there to be done?
If topsoil degradation is not prevented or delayed, the world could run out of the soil to grow its food in not more than 60 years. More and more farmers seem to understand the danger of the situation and are looking for non-invasive ways to keep their business running.
One of those solutions is to stop tilling. Two farmers from Nebraska have embraced no-till farming for over 30 years, when they have learned that, without tilling, the nutrients and water in their soil can increase significantly. In fact, even as little as a 1% increase of carbon in the soil can help it hold 40,000 more gallons of water. On top of that, they began planting cover crops, such as rye, to increase the organic matter found in the soil. By feeding the microorganisms that live inside the soil, they managed to grow more food, while also using less water and fewer fertilizers.
Another solution is to invest in topsoil recycling, which has tremendous benefits. If the soil excavated from construction sites and other industrial areas is recycled, it can be one again turned into rich soil, perfect for gardening and farming.
How does this work? “After the soil is being removed and taken to the recycling facility, it is tested and mixed with nutrients to be transformed into new topsoil. Recycled topsoil can then be transported into areas where soil quality is low, to provide a rich environment for plants to grow.” State experts from a topsoil Kent recycling company. On top of that, during the soil recycling process, other materials found in the soil, such as food waste, can be recycled and turned into natural compost, which can then be used as fertilizer.
Farmers seem to have become more concerned over the past few years and safer farming methods are being adopted in Europe as well. In the UK, topsoil recycling practices have evolved, as well as conscious farming. Although it requires more work, farmers seem to have embraced the “no-tilling” method. They keep the ground covered year-round by growing a wide variety of plants. While more work is involved, the benefits are tremendous. The decrease in maintenance, fertilization and watering costs are just a few of them. On top of that, farmers who have embraced these practices have observed an increase in microorganisms, insects, and birdlife, which means the soil is being fertilized in a more natural way, just as it has been for centuries before. To top it off, floods have decreased and crops are stronger when drought periods come.