Happy World Soil Day
You might have other plans: Holiday shopping, visiting Santa, and celebrating the end of the Festival of Lights. This Sunday, consider observing World Soil Day. Held annually on December 5th, the United Nations has designated the day to focus attention on the importance of healthy soil and to advocate for the sustainable management of soil resources. Here’s information about the day, why soil health is an important area of study at Alberta Land Institute. We’ve even suggested three things you can do in the New Year to support soil health.
About World Soil Day
World Soil Day 2021’s (#WorldSoilDay) campaign slogan is: Halt soil salinization, boost soil productivity. Events around the globe aim to “raise awareness of the importance of maintaining healthy ecosystems and human well-being by addressing the growing challenges in soil management, fighting soil salinization, increasing soil awareness and encouraging societies to improve soil health”.
This United Nations endorsed day is relatively new. In 2002, an international day to celebrate soil was recommended by the International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS) and championed by the King of Thailand. King Bhumibol Adulyadej is an important element: Dec. 5 is his birthday. When the UN General Assembly designated the first official World Soil Day in 2014 (in anticipation of the international year for soils in 2015), they chose the King’s birthday as the official day.
Soil Health at the Alberta Land Institute
Soil Health is a key research area at Alberta Land Institute. Regenerative agriculture, climate-smart agriculture and conservation agriculture are management practices associated with higher soil quality. ALI intends to take stock of sustainable agriculture efforts in Alberta and their impacts on soil conservation in the province. Research will highlight ways in which the current regulatory and policy environment facilitates or hinders improvement of soil health in the province. Working with producer groups, producers, government, corporations and other stakeholders, ALI will identify research questions to complement current work underway in the province.
2021: Halt soil salinization, boost soil productivity
Soils are the foundation of our productions systems for food, fibre, and fodder. Healthy soils also serve many other essential functions besides food production, such as climate regulation through carbon sequestration, regulating water on the landscape and providing a home for highly biodiverse soil communities.
According to the FAO, “Salts are present naturally in soils and water, and they move freely through the soil. Naturally saline soils may support rich ecosystems, but natural processes such as droughts and human activities, especially improper irrigation, can increase how many salts are in soils, a process that is called salinization. Soil salinization breaks down our soils and reduces their ability to help our food grow.”
“Salt-affected soils have serious impacts on soil functions, such as in the decrease in agricultural productivity, water quality, soil biodiversity, and soil erosion. Salt-affected soils have a decreased ability to act as a buffer and filter against pollutants. Salt-affected soils reduce both the ability of crops to take up water and the availability of micronutrients. They also concentrate ions that are toxic to plants and may degrade the soil structure.”
Some of the practices that promote healthy soil overall also can be helpful for managing minor soil salinity issues, including no-till or reduced tillage practices, leaving crop residues on the soil surface (because both keep soil moist), and continuous cropping, where feasible.
Learn more about soil health:
- World Soil Day: World Soil Day, 5 December | Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (fao.org)
- Salt-affected soils infographic: Salt-affected Soils: A global concern reducing agricultural productivity (fao.org)
- Salty experiments with soil for children (and guide for teachers) - Salty experiments with soil for children and guide for teachers (fao.org)
- Salt affected soils: discovering a missed reality (animation)
Other interesting links
- Équiterre released 'The Power of Soils' report in March, 2021
- The Soil Conservation Council Soil Health Summit was held from November 17-19, 2021. See many of the slide decks from the presentations
- Status of the World's Soil Resources report
- The Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute is supporting four doctoral fellows dedicated to soil health
What YOU can do (potential New Year resolutions for 2022):
- If your municipality doesn’t already collect organic material for composting – DIY: home compost, get compost to use in your garden
- Support an organization that works towards improving soil health (any of the organizations above accept donations)
- Educate yourself about what you use in your garden: adding compost one of the best ways to improve backyard soil health, compared to other amendments like peat moss. Why You Shouldn't Garden With Peat Moss (life.ca)