Soil health key to agricultural sustainability

16 Jul 2020 | 3 mins

Soil health is vitally important for sustainable agriculture according to researchers from The University of Western Australia’s Institute of Agriculture and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

Soil health is defined as the capacity of soil to function within ecosystem boundaries to sustain crop and animal productivities, maintain or enhance environmental sustainability, and improve human health worldwide.

The team reviewed the impact of conventional cropping systems on soil health and quality, the evolution of the plant-microbe-soil complex, and how human activities in the agroecosystem have developed over time.

Co-author Hackett Professor Kadambot Siddique, Director of The UWA Institute of Agriculture said cropping systems were initially designed to maximize yield, but modern agriculture has become increasingly concerned about the environmental sustainability of cropping systems.

“The goal of soil health maintenance is to ensure stable high productivity long-term, and environmental sustainability of cropping systems,” Professor Siddique said.

“Unfortunately, soil has been and is currently being degraded rapidly at a global scale making this issue one of the most severe socioeconomic and environmental problems threatening our survival, particularly food security.”

“Developing sustainable and cost-effective measures for both the prevention of soil degradation and the recovery of degraded soils must be promptly implemented.”

A key step towards ensuring soil health maintenance is to use a range of soil health indicators. Traditionally, physical and chemical properties of soil, such as soil texture and nutrient content, have been used as soil health indicators. However, the importance of soil biological and microbial properties as soil health indicators is becoming increasingly recognised.

“In cropping systems, the symbiosis of diverse soil microorganisms can have multiple benefits for crop plants and soil health,” Professor Siddique said.

“Determining the taxonomic structure and microbiome functions of these beneficial soil microorganisms under different cropping systems is critical for understanding and improving soil health.”

This knowledge along with relevant policies will be crucial to ensure soil health is maintained and sustainable ecosystem and agricultural development may be achieved.

The study was published in Global Ecology and Conservation, and supported by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Environmental Canada, Saskatchewan Pulse Growers, and Agricultural Development Fund of Government of Saskatchewan.

Media references

Hackett Professor Kadambot Siddique (Director, The UWA Institute of Agriculture) 08 6488 7012 / 0411 155 396
Diana Boykett (Communications Officer, The UWA Institute of Agriculture) 08 6488 3756 / 0404 152 262

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