Dr. Donald Buckingham
President & CEO, Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute (CAPI)
The trouble with soil is that it’s just not sexy. In fact, it’s downright plain, unremarkable, and messy. Most people think it’s simply a mixture of broken rocks and minerals. But soil is so much more than that. Healthy soil is full of living organisms and quite the environmental workhorse in the benefits it provides to us all.
Let’s start with biodiversity
Soil contains one quarter of the Earth’s biodiversity. One hectare of soil can include 2.5 million earthworms, trillions of fungi, bacteria, and protozoa, and billions of arthropods and algae. That’s a lot of biodiversity for 2.5 acres of dirt.
Then there’s soil carbon sequestration
Agricultural land sits on large stocks of stored carbon and has the potential to sequester more carbon, unlike most other sectors. Granted, growing crops contributes to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from fertilizers, manure, and tillage. However, with the adoption of Best Management Practices, crop rotation and cover crops, rotational grazing, precision agriculture, and no-till practices, there have been significant increases in soil carbon storage over time. Consequently, GHG emissions on Canadian croplands have sharply declined since the 1990s. So, let’s keep the carbon in the soil and out of the air.
Finally, regenerative agriculture provides the whole package
The regenerative agriculture system improves soil health, reduces GHG emissions, and increases the carbon content of soils. This is because of the system’s best practices, which drive carbon into the soil and keep it there. The resulting carbon-enriched soils are healthier, demonstrating better resilience to extreme weather, improved water permeability, increased microbial diversity, higher yields, lower input requirements, and more nutritious harvests — all of which improve the land and the farmer’s bottom line while mitigating climate change.
At the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute (CAPI), we’re leading the way in developing policy options to improve soil health and maintain natural capital so that agriculture can contribute even more as a solution provider to climate change.
Throughout history, civilizations have prospered or declined as a function of the availability and productivity of their soils, and now the very soil we walk on offers us, as well, the possibility of saving the planet from global warming. It’s something to think about when you tramp on that “plain old dirt.”