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Why soils matters

- A european perspective

soil organisms and partially decomposed plant and animal


Besides, Dr. Watson highlighted that

there is clearly a

climate impact on the capacity of soil to store carbon


Globally, twice as much carbon is stored in soils as is

present in the atmosphere. This is both a threat and an

opportunity. The threat is land use change. The opportu-

nity is

carbon storage .

She also noted that organic matter

turns at a slower rate when it is wet and cold.

Dr Watson reminded us that the world’s cultivated soils

have lost 50 to 70 percent of their original carbon stock.

Nearly 50% of European soils contain very low levels

of organic matter (0-2%), which have been caused by

agricultural intensification.

(Quinton, J., et al. Soils and

food security briefing. (2012)).

Soil is home to a quarter of our planet’s biodiversity,

which is essential for food security and nutrition.

A single gram of soil may contain millions of individual

bacteria,belonging to several thousand different species.

In other terms, soil is alive and it is the diversity of soil

organisms that is the engine keeping it alive.

Given such amazing diversity, we do not k

now yet the role

of all microorganisms in the soil.

Now, th

e essential work

of science is to identify what is in the s

oil and what is

the role of these microorganisms in the soil, to be able

to manage it

. The example of the tardigrade, more com-

monly known as the water bear, illustrates exactly this situ-

ation: it is omnipresent in the soil, found in all geographical

areas and able to resist extreme weather conditions, but

science has not yet discovered the exact role of this micro-


There are many ways to manipulate what happens in the

soil through different management practices, whether it

be monoculture, drainage, crop diversity, crop rotation,

tillage, agrochemicals, fertilisers and manure - all of these

practices are key factors in determining what happens in

the soil, for soil biodiversity and soil carbon levels. This is

why it is important to understand more about how all these

management practices interact to give us what we need.

Dr Watson detailed the

impact of crop diversification on soil carbon

, based on a recent study, and explained that

monoculture (e.g a continuous culture of maize) maintains

a baseline level of soil carbon, while, with rotation of 2

crops, there is already an increase in soil carbon of 3.6%

and an increase in nitrogen in the soil of 5.3%. Eventually,

with crop rotation management combined with cover

crops we can improve soil carbon by 8.5%.

Crop rota-

tion also increases the soil microbial biomass by 20.7%.



soil has the ability to store carbon, but this

ability depends on its texture. This texture can be im-

proved via certain agricultural management practic-


Evidence shows that techniques based on mimicking

nature contribute to more carbon storage in the soil.

Dr Watson also drew our attention to the challenges

associated with soil and food s

ecurity. These challenges

require joined-up approache

s to soil protection and

resource management . They

are also related to better

use of food waste and sewage in urban as well as rural

areas. Precision technologies, which aim to use material

more efficiently, should also be explored. Eventually,


ability to make dietary choices and adapt to changes

is key

to surmounting these challenges.

Proceedings of the Conference