The Impact of Modern Agricultural Practices on Soil
Modern agricultural practices have allowed farmers around the world to significantly increase the production of crops per acre, however, this has come at a price. Current intensive agricultural practices work land beyond its threshold. This leads to problems in the soil such as soil erosion, soil compaction, loss of organic matter, and elevated nitrate concentrations.
Soil Erosion and Compaction
Soil erosion is categorised as the “removal of soil by tillage, wind, gravity, raindrop splash, surface run-off, stream flow, coastal processes, and chemical dissolution” (2). The impacts caused by soil erosion depend on whether the rate of soil erosion is greater than the rate of soil renewal. According to the United Nations, since the rate of soil degradation exceeds the rate of soil formation, the soil is a “non-renewable” natural resource” (4). As the soil erodes, the soil organic carbon (SOC), plant nutrients, and soil structure all deplete. Beyond the impacts on the soil itself, erosion causes silt to build up in nearby bodies of water and also makes the soil more susceptible to droughts (1). Tillage and heavy farm equipment can cause both soil compaction and soil erosion. Soil compaction doesn’t allow water to absorb and leads to stunted root growth and consequently decreased yields. As the water run-offs increase due to compacted soil so does the risk of flooding (1).
One crop repeatedly grown on a plot of land is a practice called monocropping, this practice reduces the organic matter in the soil which is crucial for productivity. Once this occurs, synthetic fertilisers as well as pesticides are used to overcome the lack of productivity. Although fertiliser provides macronutrients to the soil (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium), it can also decrease microbiological diversity and favour pathological strains within the soil (3). Monocropping also alters the microbial content of soil by decreasing the microbes which assist with plant growth (3). The use of pesticides kills harmful and beneficial bacteria and fungi which impacts the fertility of the soil. Animal waste also causes heavy metal contamination in soil (such as copper, zinc, and lead).
Organic matter, as aptly stated in the book Building Soils for Better Crops: Ecological Management for Healthy Soils, was once extolled as the essential soil ingredient, the bright particular star in the firmament of the plant grower, it fell like Lucifer under the weight of “modern” agricultural ideas“(1). Regenerative and sustainable agriculture practices can not only improve soil carbon sequestration, and soil water retention, but also diminish the need for pesticides and synthetic fertilisers. Multi-cropping, compost tea, limited utilisation of pesticides, and boundary plantation to prevent erosion, are all sustainable practices through which Agrihood sustains soil health.
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Author: Rida Ahmad