Wonder Beneath Our Feet: World Soil Day 2021
December 3, 2021 | Suzanne Armstrong
World Soil Day, hosted by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), is celebrated every year on December 5. Getting the public to appreciate the value of soil as a foundation for our food system, human health and the environment can be challenging. For people who don’t work with soil in their daily lives, they may see it as just something that holds plants in place. Farmers and scientists know there is much more going on.
Soil rewards the curious with evermore things to learn. Be it about soil chemistry, soil structure or soil life, farmers and scientists are constantly discovering more about the interactions in soil and new methods to preserve and build healthy soils. Although I grew up gardening and composting, I didn’t really appreciate the many incredible relationships that come together in healthy soil. Healthy soils cycle and store carbon and are host to a whole world of soil life. This results in healthy plants, animals and people who depend on that foundation.
Locally, changes in land use patterns continue to put farm soils at risk. Productive soils converted to development will never produce food again. As pointed out in the FAO report on “The Status of the World’s Soil Resources,” in Ontario, and indeed all of eastern Canada, changes in land use from pasture to annual cropping are resulting in lower soil organic carbon (SOC) levels. Although conservation tillage and other methods help to preserve and restore SOC, or prevent erosion, decreasing SOC in farm soils remains a concern.
Governments, both provincial and federal, are paying more attention to soil health. Ontario’s provincial agricultural soil strategy, “New Horizons,” is currently in the implementation phase. The CFFO has been working with other industry representatives, academia and government in this collaborative effort. While this is an important forum, work on soil health continues in many other circles, as well.
The CFFO has also been participating in a project called The Power of Soil, a collaboration of the Greenbelt Foundation and Equiterre. The report looks across Canada at existing policies and makes recommendations for how governments can better support farmers in their stewardship of our farm soils.
These initiatives are really important. Farmers do amazing work to care for their soils, but there’s still a place for government support – especially for new practices that require a few years to get established or have high initial costs. Society should support farmers in stewardship efforts that benefit all eaters. We are all connected to the soil that produces our food.
Suzanne Armstrong is Director of Policy & Research for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKXS Chatham, CKNX Wingham, and CHLP Listowel.