When it comes to soil health, it's estimated that over 40% of the world's soils in farming are seriously degraded, which means the nutrient density of our food is in continual decline. And when we hear about excessive CO2 in the atmosphere, carbon farming is seen as one of the big solutions towards reversing the effects of climate change. So, it's little wonder that soil is one of the hottest topics in world agriculture right now. If you're looking for practical ways to restore soil health, and interested in earning carbon credits as a profitable side hustle, Growing Country makes digging up the information you need easy.

Critical indicators of soil health

Soil is more than just the land beneath our feet; it sustains an entire ecosystem of microorganisms that provide nutrients to plants. Developing healthy soils in farming is, therefore, crucial to long-term agricultural productivity. The physical characteristics (colour, texture and structure) of soils in farming give an indication of the health of the soil. These characteristics slightly change depending on topography and the organic and inorganic materials within the soil.

Some key indicators include:

  1. Soil colour and texture: typically, healthy soils are darker, which signifies abundant organic matter and nutrients. Ideal soil texture should be soft and crumbly, whereas compact soil indicates restricted air and water movement, which can lead to erosion and water-logging.
  2. Organic matter: Soil organic matter comprises plant or animal tissue in various stages of breakdown (decomposition). Productive agricultural soils typically contain 3-6% organic matter, with higher levels generally indicating better soil quality. Healthy soils are filled with organisms that thrive by breaking down plant and animal material. Organic matter should be bountiful in your soil as it provides vital nutrients to plants and helps retain water
  3. A thriving soil ecosystem: Healthy soil should be teeming with worms, fungi, insects and bacteria. Microorganisms play a fundamental role in breaking down organic matter and converting it into nutrients for your plants to absorb. They promote nitrogen fixation, improve soil structure and even replace the presence of toxic metals with essential nutrients. The busier your soil, the better!
  4. Soil pH: testing soil pH will offer you a clear understanding of soil fertility and productivity. High salinity environments are generally too acidic for microbial communities to flourish and prevent nutrients from being efficiently absorbed by plants.
  5. Soil aroma: Healthy soils release a distinct, fresh smell. If your soil smells spoiled or rotten, it might suggest issues with water-logging or anaerobic conditions. Poor drainage disrupts oxygen passing through the soil profile, stunting plant growth.

The future of farming: healthy soils

Regenerative farming practices aim to preserve and restore productive land and its surrounding environment by rebalancing the give-and-take relationship that today's industrial agriculture has disrupted. In fact, this new era of agriculture takes a step back in time by holistically caring for the land and the people who operate on it. And soil health lies at the very heart of this movement. Restoring soils to be in balance biologically, structurally and chemically, improves carbon sequestration and has many more flow-on effects to the environment as a whole.

Practical solutions to improve soil fertility

Growing Country interviews farmers, practitioners and soil health experts for practical strategies to enhance soil fertility and agricultural productivity. Some of their most common recommendations for improving soil health include the following:

  • Cover cropping: planting crops on soil that would otherwise remain bare after cash crops have been harvested prevents soil erosion, improves water holding capacity and promotes microbial diversity by having a diverse range of root structures in the soil.
  • No-till farming: maintains soil structure, thereby improving water holding capacity, nutrient retention, aeration and root development.
  • Biochar and composting: biochar amendments mixed with natural fertilisers or compost increase the presence of microbial communities in the soil, improving nutrient retention, regulating soil pH and reducing heavy metal concentrations.

For farmers committed to transforming the health of their soil, productivity of their crops and profitability of their land, Growing Country offers the latest information on soils in farming. Our knowledge-sharing platform aims to empower farmers to take steps to restore and maintain soil health themselves. Embracing best-practice farming techniques to better the health of soil ensures farms stay profitable, our food stays nutritious and agricultural land stays productive for generations to come.