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Ask not what your soil can do for you, ask what you can do for your soil

A dirt road runs through a bare field under a blue sky

Our very lives depend on the health of the planet’s soils. So why do we treat soils like dirt? According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations:

  • Soil holds three times as much carbon as the atmosphere and can help meet the challenges of a changing climate
  • 815 million people are food insecure and 2 billion people are nutritionally insecure, but we can mitigate this through soil.
  • 95% of our food comes from soil
  • 33% of our global soils are already degraded

The FAO declared 2015 to be the International Year of Soils. To continue the efforts of the International Year of Soils, the International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS) proclaimed 2015-2024 to be the International Decade of Soil. In their Vienna Soil Declaration of December 7, 2015, the IUSS identified soil as the environmental keystone – the basis for microbial, plant and animal life. They also declared soil to be a finite resource, non-renewable over a human generational time scale, and impacted adversely by humans for millennia. In 2014, a UN spokesperson warned that, unless we reverse the current rate of deterioration, the world’s topsoil could be fully degraded within 60 years.

Soil is the foundation of the Ontario agriculture and food sectors. The Arrell Food Summit’s soil session, presented by the Ontario Agricultural College, will provide an overview of the problems and solutions for Ontario soils – some of the most productive farmland in the country.

Soil Science Panel: University of Guelph soil scientists will present their work on the link between agricultural soils and greenhouse gasses; how agricultural and environmental practices impact soil microbial communities and microbially-mediated soil processes; and the biogeochemical cycling of carbon and nitrogen in agricultural landscapes and its contribution to soil ecosystems services.

Landscape Changes Panel: Analysis of Official Plan Amendments in Ontario municipalities reveal conversion rates of prime agricultural soils into settlement lands over the past years. Farmland ownership categories are varied: active farmers, widow(er)s, retired farmers, families who use the land as a place of residence, private investors, investment companies and governments; very little is foreign-owned. More than 1/3 of Ontario’s farmland is owned by non-farmers. The maintenance of organic matter plays a significant role in improving soil structure, nutrient cycling, water infiltration and water-holding capacity, and biological activity. What are the implications of land ownership and management practices for soil conservation?

Ontario’s Agricultural Soil Health and Conservation Strategy: The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) developed a discussion document in 2016, entitled Sustaining Ontario’s Agricultural Soils: Towards a Shared Vision. OMAFRA, in collaboration with the Agricultural Soils Health and Conservation Working Group, has evolved this work into the Draft Ontario Agricultural Soil Health and Conservation Strategy, which is now undergoing review and public comment.

A Farmer’s Perspective: Finally, Blake Vince, fifth generation farmer from Merlin, Ontario, will present the practices and philosophy that guide his efforts to protect and enrich his soils for present and future use – in sustaining his family, his community and the environment.