Soil exhaustion can be caused by poor management of soils and crops, leading to nutrients being depleted from the earth, making them incapable of supporting crops or other plant life. By utilizing better agricultural practices, limiting deforestation, and replacing what we’ve taken from the land, soils can be fertile again. It is imperative to fix the issue of soil exhaustion to lead to better, more productive crops while preserving the earth itself.
What Is Soil Exhaustion?
Soil exhaustion is when the soil reaches a point where it can no longer support plant life. Mistreatment leads to depletion of the soil’s chemical profile, and maintaining a healthy balance of nutrients and appropriate soil is what enables plants to have the nourishment needed for growth. Exhausted soil is incapable of supporting life and can lead to barren fields devoid of any plant material. Many plants help anchor the ground in its place, so soil erosion is a strong possibility when the plants are no longer around.
What Causes Soil Depletion?
Soil depletion is ultimately an issue regarding soil health and its ability to sustain life. Many factors go into soil depletion, such as the few listed below:
- Erosion: The degradation of topsoil exposes the layer of soil underneath that contains the nutrients necessary for crops to live. It also makes further soil erosion easier since many plants help keep soil in place with their root systems.
- Lack of crop rotation: By continuously planting the same crops, the soil will be lacking the nutrients necessary for growth. This can lead to soil fatigue and is a significant component of the soil exhaustion issue.
- Soil Pollution: Heavy metals, biological agents, and other chemicals can pollute the soil. Soil pollution can destroy beneficial soil organisms as well as leave the plant unable to uptake any nutrition that is left, as many of these pollutants will alter the chemistry of the soil.
- Excessive irrigation and nutrient leaching: Not only does excessive irrigation waste water, but it also pushes nutrients deeper into the earth, making them inaccessible to the plants.
Soil depletion leads to many issues in the future, but these issues can be prevented using improved methods to replenish soils of their nutritional profile.
What Are the Solutions for Soil Exhaustion?
The factors playing into what causes soil depletion can be prevented by changing common practices and replacing them with smarter, more sustainable choices.
- Replenishing lost nutrients. Using compost or other natural fertilizers such as manure can help maintain the soil chemistry needed for healthy and productive crops. It is also a good way to make use of bio-waste, which helps reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
- Maintaining coverage. Plowing soils leaves them bare and exposed to the elements. This can drain the soil of its life by causing drought, erosion, and a general loss of nutrition, turning a once healthy and lush field into a far-reaching dirt pile. Using cover crops during off seasons can help maintain moisture in the soil as well as nutrients, so when a crop is planted, it will be able to perform well without much extra intervention.
- Implementing responsible farming techniques. Crop rotation is a simple, effective horticultural practice with different nutritional requirements annually or semi-annually to cycle the soil in a way that is natural and sustainable.
Soil Fatigue vs. Soil Exhaustion
The definition of soil fatigue includes the exhaustion of essential nutrients in the soil that is available to plant life. Soil fatigue and soil exhaustion can be used interchangeably. The main factors causing soil fatigue include:
- Toxins in soils. Some plants exhibit chemical behavior to halt the growth of other plants around them, called “allelopathy.” These toxins can persist in the soil and inhibit the establishment of other plants, leading to nutrient-poor soils that eventually are incapable of maintaining plant life entirely.
- Diseases stemming from fungi, bacteria, or viruses. Unhealthy plants are more susceptible to infection, and a leading cause of unhealthy plants is poor soils. Plant diseases can affect entire crops and render them useless, and many bacteria can persist in the soil for years, waiting for the right conditions to cause infection again.
How to Prevent Soil Fatigue
Preventing soil fatigue can be done on large and small scales by adding or changing methods commonly used in agriculture.
- Amend the soil with beneficial organisms and mycorrhizae. Beneficial microorganisms and mycorrhizal fungi can also be depleted; these organisms can help plants establish in the soil and acquire more nutrients and water than without their aid. This can be done by introducing granular mycorrhizae into the soil or by mixing water-soluble mycorrhizae with water for use in the soil.
- Fallow land. While leaving land barren for long periods of time through plowing can be detrimental to the soil, giving it a period of rest between seasonal crops can actually bring certain elements to the upper portions of the soil. It is important to turn the soil periodically for aeration and to encourage soil regeneration. Doing this can also help to rid the soil of toxins through oxidative processes occurring upon interaction with sunlight. By planting spring crops and leaving the land unplanted until the next year when fall crops are planted, the soil is given time to regenerate on its own.
Preventing soil fatigue will lead to more productive, useful crops and a healthy soil profile that will help protect your plants against disease. Soil erosion is also less likely to occur when vigorous, healthy plants are present in the landscape.
Soil Depletion Myths
Many headlines surrounding global food availability and nutrition are inflammatory to get a response out from the reader. Soil depletion myths are no exception, and it is essential to find the facts to avoid panic and spreading misinformation.
Here are a couple of common myths:
- Food is less nutritious now than it used to be. While there are limitations in studying this claim, the consensus amongst scientists is the amounts of nutrients available in our food now compared to 50 years ago are well within the limits of acceptable deviation. Food nowadays is not less nutritious in any meaningful amount than it used to be.
- We only have 60 years of harvest left. This claim suggests that in 60 years, the earth’s soils will have eroded so much that arable land will be impossible to come by. There are limited amounts of harvests left. Studies show that while soil erosion is a concern, there is no one set “erosion rate” and that some soils have a lifespan of over 5000 years.
Many claims are sensationalized or unbacked by evidence, so it is always best to consider the sources of the information and do independent research to understand fact from fiction.