Soil Services

Soil fertility is being threatened by erosion, loss of nutrients, overgrazing, deforestation, and contamination on a global scale. This places food supplies and biodiversity at unacceptable risk.

This test plot utilizes plants to purify a contaminated brownfield site.

Soil provides a number of critical Ecosystem Services. It provides the physical support system for plants and retains and delivers nutrients to them. Soil can hold and release water flexibly, providing flood control and water purification benefits. Soil is the medium through which nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium are continually exchanged, and is a critical participant in biogeochemical cycles. Soil, aided by the complex ecosystem of bacteria, nematodes, insects, beetles, and other organisms that inhabits its pores, is able to continuously maintain its fertility.

Soil is the foundation for all terrestrial ecosystems, and its health is essential for a stable food system. Unfortunately, soil is a renewable but not a resilient resource. It takes several centuries to generate a single inch of topsoil. It is estimated that 17 percent of the earth's vegetated land surface has undergone human-induced soil degradation since 1945. Many bioregions have already suffered a catastrophic loss in soil cover and fertility.

Agriculture practices like organic farming, composting, crop rotation, minimum tillage, and natural pest control can maintain soil cover and fertility in healthy areas and even restore lightly degraded areas. Ecological Forestry maintains soil health in forested areas. Where greater degradation has occurred, intensive Watershed Services efforts may be necessary. Given that the cost and complexity of soil recovery increases rapidly with the level of damage, it is essential to maintain the quality of soil services.

Like other ecosystem services, soil services are undervalued in the marketplace. This creates unintentional subsidies for soil degradation or destruction. Ecological Land-Use minimizes the loss of productive soil cover from construction, infrastructure, and industry by encouraging dense, clustered development to occur on lands inappropriate for agriculture or forestry.

Emerging Materials Cycles and the transition to Product as Service prevent the accumulation of synthetic chemicals in the biosphere. This benefits the health of soil by preventing contamination.

Maintain soil cover and fertility through agricultural and forestry practices that prevent erosion and loss of nutrients. When necessary, restore soil health. Emphasize ecological land-use strategies to minimize the size and impact of development. Use sustainable materials cycles to avoid chemical contamination of soils.