Research Suggests Several Threats to Soil Security, Opportunities to Improve Soil Management

As the United Nations observes 2015 as the International Year of Soils, a new study articulates that soil resources have plateaued in their ability to keep pace with food production needs. Specifically, the study described several factors that may threaten the viability of the world’s soil resources. The following points share about such threats and present possible solutions.

Threats to Soil Security1. The fertilizer supply relies on limited natural resources. Primarily, farmers apply potassium, phosphorus and nitrogen to their fields. Potassium and phosphorus fertilizers originate from rocks and minerals, and the U.S. has a finite supply. The study describes that just 1 percent to 2 percent of global potassium resources are found in the U.S. For phosphorus, the U.S. may eradicate its reserves in the next three decades. After mining all phosphorus available within the U.S., domestic producers may become increasingly reliant on phosphorus sourced from countries like Morocco and China, which would consequently have some control in allocating those resources. To produce nitrogen, fertilizer companies use fossil fuels, which also have constrained availability.

2. Soil’s role as a carbon source remains critically important. The top three meters of soil hold as many as 2,300 gigatons of carbon. Disturbing the soil causes some of that carbon to escape into the atmosphere.

3. Using available nutrients more efficiently may represent a management opportunity. Traditionally, solid waste amassed at waste treatment facilities has contained high phosphorus and potassium concentrations that aren’t returned to the soil. Nitrogen run-off creates a challenge as it can pollute waterways and harm wildlife. Eventually, soil nutrients such as these could be collected and recycled for beneficial uses. This would be similar to the recycling model that caught on fairly quickly among consumers and involves them segregating recyclable paper, glass and aluminum from the waste stream.

For the full research summary, go to

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