Soil Care Network Newsletter
February 2022
by Emma Lietz Bilecky, in collaboration with Anna Krzywoszynska, Michiel van de Pavert, and Thirze Hermans

Soil Policy
 

According to a recent FAO report, earth’s soils are more saturated with plastics than its oceans. To tackle the growing problem of soil plastic pollution from "plasticulture," it proposes a “6R principle,” adding plastic "refusal, redesign, and recovery" to the more common "reduce, reuse, recycle" directives.

 

In a more optimistic turn, this study suggests birch trees may offer a novel solution for remediating soil plastic.

Agrii launches national Soil Resilience Strategy.

New York State’s Soil Health and Climate Resiliency Act will help farmers mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change through sustainable soil management. 

The World Economic Forum has named three issues of importance for restoring world soils. They suggest (1) increasing the share of food prices going to farmers, (2) treating soil as an asset, and (3) improving transparency amongst food consumers.

All About Peat!

As UK and Welsh governments look to ban peat extraction by 2024, some say that may be too late, as delays could add 1.5 million tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere. 

Meanwhile, Defra's Countryside Stewardship Scheme aims to prevent degradation of lowland peat soils to halt the subsequent CO2 release. The Nature for Climate Peatland Grass Scheme will also provide funding for English peatland restoration.

The horticulture industry is playing a supporting role, deploying its Growing Media Task Force to help end peat use.

 

Soil Science

Soil carbon sequestration efforts may get a boost from fungi. Introduced to plant roots through a microbial inoculum, melanised endophytic fungus helps store melanin, a longer-lasting carbon compound,  in the soil.


New research from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory describes the role of soil viruses in maintaining soil microbial populations. The lab surveyed soils across the US, finding variation in viruses across samples and moisture gradients and suggesting that viruses in dry soils may help soil bacteria survive the dryer conditions.

Forest Soils

A Boston University lab finds trees and soils along forest edges – made of trees more proximate to human worlds through forest fragmentation and parceling  – may actually store more carbon than their counterparts in forest interiors.

New research from North Carolina State University shows the soil in "ghost forests," or coastal forests that are being killed by rising sea levels, generate large amounts of methane signaled by a somewhat flatulent cacophony.

The Soil Association published a Regenerative Forestry report, advocating for an expansion of UK forests. Forest soils store 75% of forest carbon in the UK.

Soil and Agriculture

 

Soil tillage may reduce the amino acid ergothioneine in soils and crops by impacting soil bacteria and fungi, which may increase certain chronic diseases of ageing in humans.

An Iowa State University model shows how US crop production has increased nitrous oxide emissions throughout the last century, though this paper shows modifying soil phosphorous levels could help.

A new Soil Health Institute report details relationships between soil health and the nutritional quality of food. The report suggests microbial diversity and other factors may play a role.

Cannabis may bioaccumulate soil toxins. This environmental initiative on Micmac land is using the plant to clean up PFAS in the soil at a former Air Force Base turned Superfund site.

A new study traces contaminants of emerging concern in reclaimed wastewater used to irrigate agricultural soils.

This study looks at the economic tradeoffs between harvest efficiency versus decreased yields and environmental disservices from soil compaction, which results from the use of heavier machinery. The paper suggests smaller combine harvesters maximise farmer profits and societal benefits.

 

Soil and Climate

 

Mediterranean soil desertification, urbanisation and salinization are harbingers of the EU’s coming soil trouble, scientists warn. Soil degradation threatens many crops comprising the treasured Mediterranean diet, as Mediterranean soils reach critical limits to their ability to provide ecosystem services.

Hotter, drier soils soak up more snowpack in Colorado, spelling trouble for farmers and freshwater reservoirs that rely on this water source.

This study traces post-fire carbon fluxes across landscapes, asking whether carbon released from wildfires is re-absorbed by land-based carbon sinks. It suggests that the effects of existing vegetation are significant, and grassland-savannas may act as a sink for pyrogenic carbon, while other landscapes may not.

This paper shows that persistent soil carbon sequestration in grassland-derived mollisols works best on perennial grasslands, as opposed to in agricultural grain or dairy forage systems. Grassland management and pasture age impacts soil fungal composition, this paper shows.

“It is an everyday job to raise the voice of soils, our silent ally," writes Ronald Vargas in reflecting on COP26 and the state of the world’s soils.

 

Listen to an interview with Jo Handelsman, author of A World Without Soil.
 

Soil Art

 

In the “Unshadowed Land” exhibit by Nicholas Galanin at Davidson University, students amend soil in the silhouette of Andrew Jackson’s statue to prepare the ground for a planting of Catawba Corn.

 

This interactive Soil Tunnel trailer brings the underground world of soil to the surface! 

Soil bioacoustics researchers listen to the unfamiliar sounds of the soil, and find it's a surprisingly noisy place! Listen to stridulating cockchafers here.

A Soil Blessing

This Catholic bishop performed a blessing over seeds and soil to be grown in the diocese of Southern Texas.