Healthy soil is abundant with life, containing the greatest concentration of life on the planet. There are more soil microorganisms in one teaspoon of soil than there are humans on the entire planet. You could fit approximately 40 million of these life forms on a single pinhead. These microorganisms are essential for life.
Healthy soil is made up of approximately 45% minerals, 25% air, 25% water and 5% organic matter. It is home to millions of different species of life including bacteria, algae, microscopic insects, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, earthworms, centipedes, beetles, ants, mites and springtails. All these life forms play an important roll in the health of the soil. For example, Earthworm populations in healthy soil consume 2 tons of dry matter per acre per year, partly digesting it to form healthy soil.
Earthworms produce nutrient-rich casts and make lubricated tunnels that aid soil structure and water movement in the soil. Bacteria feed on organic matter, store and cycle nitrogen. Some types of fungi feed on dead organic matter like crop residues that are more difficult to breakdown, some are parasites that attack other microbes and others fan out from the plants roots to get more nutrients and hold more water for the plant, delivering nutrients to the plant in exchange for carbon. Protozoa eat bacteria, fungi, and algae. When they eat bacteria, their main food source, they unlock nitrogen that’s released into the soil environment slowly. They convert organic nitrogen to inorganic nitrogen that’s available to plants.
This snippet of information gives an insight to the complex life systems that make our soils healthy to help sustain life on a wider scale. A wonderful selection of information, including some of the information above can be read on the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service website http://www.nrcs.usda.gov
How we treat our soil will have a direct impact on life in the short-term and long-term. One of the greatest threats to these life forms is the overuse and misuse of pesticides that are sprayed on crops in conventional farming. Organic farming on the other hand, encourages life to be at the epicentre of the farm and protects the quality of our soil. As the world population continues to increase from 7 billion to a projected population of more than 9 billion in 2050, food production will need to rise by 70 percent and the way this is achieved cannot just be determined by profit driven companies. We need to have a greater understanding of the impact we have on our planet and learn to give back and not just take.
IMPACT OF INTENSIVE FARMING
Intensive farming on the other hand was originally developed to reduce food shortages, by growing significant amount of crops quickly and cheaply. Rather than use the natural nutrients in the earth to fertilise crops and insects & animals as a natural pest control, intensive farming relies on artificial pesticides to do these jobs. Generally, pesticides destroy pests by physically, chemically or biologically interfering with their metabolism, nervous system, glandular system, respiratory system or normal behavior.
There are pesticides, which target insects, mites, snails, slugs, bacteria, fungi, weeds, rodents and birds. In addition, the food chain that relies on these food sources is affected too. Adjuvants are also used to improve the efficiency of pesticides. Here are some examples; surfactants improve the wetting, spreading, dispersing and emulsifying properties of pesticides; wetting agents help wettable powders and dry flowables mix with water and stick on surfaces; spreaders which help pesticides form uniform coatings over treated surfaces; ammonium & sulfate salts enhance the uptake of some pesticides in hard water; oil based adjuvants affect leaf structures to allow better contact with pesticides; 'stickers' help pesticides resist being washed off by rain. Artificial fertilisers used in intensive farming provide a narrow range of nutrients but enough for the crops to grow.