The health of the world’s agricultural soils is in crisis, and has been for a while.
But now it’s really getting serious. The United Nations has stated that at the rate we’re going, the world’s soils have only 60 years of production left. Meanwhile, global grain markets are suffering, and farm input costs – namely those associated with the world’s most ubiquitous chemical herbicide, and the ever-more-expensive seeds with which it is designed to work – keep rising. The total number of U.S. farms keeps dropping, and farmers are again committing suicide in alarming numbers.
It’s been a long time since we as a society took notice of these problems. Yet here we are, and it’s beginning to resemble a doomsday sci-fi movie.
There are, however, encouraging signs that the world is starting to react. Academic studies are finally addressing what many in the soil-biology world have known for a long time: that it’s all about the microbiome. And while the spotlight has, at last, begun illuminating the microbial world, researchers have already been learning to expand regenerative techniques to production scale.
Eventually, farms the world over will employ the techniques being developed, and in so doing, achieve freedom from a system tying them to expensive inputs, the vast majority of which are unnecessary in – and a distinct threat to – proper soil biology.
With proper biology comes the promise of many things: lower water costs, because healthy soil holds moisture longer; reduced-to-eliminated pesticide costs, because biologically rich systems make infestation impossible; and lower seed costs, because farmers no longer need proprietary genetics designed to withstand ever-worsening soil conditions. Fertilizer costs can be drastically reduced, to say nothing of the regulatory advantages offered by regenerative techniques.
The takeaway here: don’t count the human race out just yet.