A Wits University study by Robert J Scholes found that in South Africa, the province of Limpopo has some of the most degraded soil in the country. Dr Corrie Swanepoel, a soil scientist at the Agricultural Research Council (ARC), joins us on this week’s podcast to unpack why taking care of your soil is so important.
Swanepoel defines soil degradation as a loss in soil quality. She explains that there are many reasons soil can degrade, and those reasons can be chemical, physical and biological.
“Most of these [reasons], especially in the farming communities, will be due to poor soil management. If you have, for example, a lot of biomass burning, especially hot fires, [these] can cause damage to the soil biota and the organisms living in the soil and [also] damage some of the seeds.”
Poor water quality also affects the health of soil and causes chemical degradation, adds Swanepoel. She explains that soil pH is important to the health of the soil.
Increasing the nutrients in your soil
“Depending on the soil type, the infiltration of the soil or the climate where you are, you can either have soil salinisation, where the pH of the soil is increased due to salts that are building up in the soil profile, or you can have acidification. [It is] where the soil gets more acidic, [which] can release a lot of toxins that can cause a lot of different things.”
Central to soil health is the availability of nutrients in the soil. Swanepoel highlights the reduction in nutrient availability as another type of soil mismanagement and says that, regardless of the mismanagement type, all of them are bad for a farming operation.
“This [leads] to the reduction of the quality of soil to what we call soil degradation. And all of this is negative for crop production, and also for the soil to support natural vegetation as well.”
To combat soil degradation, Swanepoel says farmers need to devote their efforts to soil organic matter. She explains that soil organic matter is one of the main drivers of soil quality and increasing it results in a number of positive consequences for the health of the soil.
“It improves soil physical properties and it helps with nutrient cycling in the soil. It’s basically the beginning of the whole soil ecosystem that the organisms can feed off of.”
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