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Scientists fight to restore the world’s soil

Intensification of agriculture has increased food production, but has caused havoc in the soil. Maintaining agriculture for the future depends on our ability to fix it.Credit: Murdoch University

On a rural farm in Bangladesh, Sonatan holds a special blessing ceremony for his life-changing small and cheap tractor.


It was an amazing few years for a former clay pot maker who was always struggling to support his family.

The problem Sonatan faced was that traditional farming in rural Bangladesh, where extreme poverty and malnutrition are the highest in the world, is too slow and difficult to lead a decent life.

The equipment traditionally pulled by buffalo was dry and depleted by the time the rice was harvested, making it impossible to grow staple foods such as lentils and chickpeas.

Today, Murdoch University soil scientists are changing the lives of thousands of South Asian farmers with small seeders that require more sustainable agricultural technology.

Professor Richard Bell, a soil and land management specialist, means that families can provide education, better housing, and important health care and medication, while fundamentally improving the quality of cultivated soil. It states that.

“If a farmer adopts our entire package and uses it for a couple of crops a year, there will be an additional charge of $ 300 to $ 350 per hectare,” says Professor Bell.

“It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a lot for small farmers in Bangladesh.”

According to Professor Bell, using this system on smaller farms will use up to 86% less fuel, 34% less labor and up to 33% less water to plant crops.

“This means that, according to our research, the profits of Bangladeshi farmers will increase by 48% to 560%.”

that is, Population growth 163 million people have pushed food production into small land pockets (often not larger than the average Australian backyard) to give way to housing.

Problems at our feet

However, while landowners in developed countries have much better access to machinery, soil crises caused by intensive agricultural practices, deforestation and wind erosion plague farmers around the world.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, one-third of the world’s soil is deteriorating, suffering from loss of soil biodiversity, increased salinity, pollution, acidification and compression.

In Western Australia, Murdoch University soil scientists hope to revive these barren soils and secure a source of food for the next generation.

New methods are being developed at the Food Futures Institute, leveraging bioplastics, the ability to grow more with less water and fuel, and soil regeneration.

Francis Foil, director of Soils West, says it’s important to understand the complex functions of soil and use it to combat climate change.

Increase your chances of survival

Over 7 billion microbes live in a handful of soil and these microbes consume carbon As food to survive.

Dirty Problem: Scientists Fight to Restorate the World's Soil

Associate Professor Francis Foil conducted an experiment in which the organic carbon in soil doubled from 0.6% to 1.2% by adding 100 tons of organic matter over 13 years.Credit: Murdoch University

“There is growing interest in how soil can suppress carbon and be willing to trade it within the framework of carbon trading,” Dr. Foil said.

Dr. Hoyle surveys sands in southwestern Western Australia to find out how various agricultural practices have changed the amount of carbon stored in the ground.

She compares soil samples 15 years ago and today.

It’s about understanding the factors and mechanisms that change the rate of decomposition of organic carbon in soil, and therefore how much we use and build, “says Associate Professor Hoyle. I am.

Dr. Hoyle, in collaboration with industry and government, discovered that moisture and temperature play an important role in altering soil carbon levels.

“Carbon is balanced by input and output. Therefore, input is based on rainfall and how plant biomass grows, and output (or loss) is related to the rate at which it decomposes. ..

“For every 10 ° C increase in temperature, the rate of decomposition doubles,” she said.

Dr. Hoyle wants to take advantage of a perennial pasture system on the cooler south coast of Western Australia to store new carbon.

“Because it’s cool and moist, it can grow a lot of biomass, and it decomposes less quickly, so it’s more likely to store new carbon than in northern agricultural areas.”

Playbook for better soil

Agricultural expert Professor Richard Harper measured the carbon sequestration of hundreds of small 6-meter evergreen Tagasaste trees planted near the town of Mula, Wheatbert, 180 km north of Perth.

In areas where nothing is grown in agriculture, the planting of Tagasaste puts 3 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the soil each year and 6 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the biomass of the tree each year.

In another project, run by Associate Professor Rachel Standish and Greening Australia, planting on Peniupu farms turned barren soil from ungrown land into a wood-rich carbon sink. ..

While these types of projects realize opportunities on unproductive land, microbiologist Professor Daniel Murphy provides farmers with guidance on how to better manage productive and limited land. doing.

The latest tool in their arsenal is “Soil quality 6: Soil compactionContains recommendations based on decades of research that may help maintain agriculture in the future.

“It contains information about the environmental and management impacts on beneficial and disease-causing organisms and soil habitats that affect soil production and resilience,” said Professor Murphy.

Dr. Foil, co-author of this book, said her research was one of the world’s leading food products. Challenge to the environment By giving mechanisms, causes and factors that affect farmers soil Quality including biological, chemical and physical aspects.

This research forms an important part of the Food Futures Institute’s mission to secure and maintain the food bowl of the future.

“While strengthening agriculture over the last 50 years has increased food production, urban expansion, erosion, nutrient spills, salt, biodiversity loss and climate change pose major challenges,” said Food Future. Deputy Prime Minister Peter Davis said. Laboratory.

“This work helps provide solutions to some of these challenges by providing answers to the pressing questions that farmers have.”


Carbon levels in soil affected by climatic conditions


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Murdoch University

Quote: Scientists fight to restore the world’s soil (September 13, 2021) September 13, 2021 https://phys.org/news/2021-09-scientists-world-soils.html

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Scientists fight to restore the world’s soil

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