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Why Soil Contains the Hidden Heroes of our Ecosystem…

Life tends to be busy, so we can be forgiven for not always noticing microscopic but vital natural systems. They are easy to miss and – in this case, they’re concealed underground.

Research into soil health is still expanding, yet, in reality, humanity has only just scratched the surface. What we do know is that there is a web of terrestrial life hidden beneath our very feet which, if regenerated, can bring an abundance of benefits.

Not only is healthy soil fundamental for crop productivity, it also plays an indispensable role in carbon capture, biodiversity levels, water holding capacity and improved nutrient density – creating ecological harmony and protecting our ecosystem below and above ground. With this in mind, it’s crucial that we spread the word about protecting the skin of the earth through a holistic approach to farming. 

Here at Soil Heroes, we dedicate our work to growing the number of hectares farmed regeneratively by incentivising farmers – with the vision to improve the health of soil on their land. With the collaboration of the Soil Heroes Foundation, our sister organisation, we are committed to soil health and regenerative agriculture. The more we discover on our collective journey, the more fascinating it gets!

Life beneath our feet

Healthy soil is made up of organic matter, which is broken down by microorganisms that work within the ground and recycle nutrients and minerals. 

Soils form the terrestrial surface that we live on and the basis for the vast majority of life on Earth, yet they are possibly the least understood and appreciated of Earth’s ecosystems. With up to 50,000 different species of microorganisms found in just 1 gram of healthy soil, it’s no surprise that one quarter of the world’s species can be found beneath our feet.

When free from external interventions like invasive machinery, chemical fertilisers and pesticides, the microorganisms found in soil rewards us with vital ecosystem services such as; nutrient cycling, disease suppression, water infiltration, and even climate regulation. 

Take earthworms, for example

These ecosystem engineers perform a crucial role in creating and preserving soil health by breaking down organic matter and nourishing a complex web of smaller organisms. Additionally, they create a natural drainage system for water infiltration and crop rooting through burrowing.

“The presence of earthworms, on average, increased crop yield by 25% in agricultural systems.”

Nielson, Wall and Six

Earthworms are a key indicator that the soil’s ecosystem is thriving. An increased number of earthworms results in more microorganisms, creating a healthier habitat and crop, thus providing better nourishment for humans and the planet, too. A study by Nielson, Wall and Six found that “the presence of earthworms, on average, increased crop yield by 25% in agricultural systems.”

If the soil web is protected and living healthily, farmers do not need to pay for artificial inputs when the natural ecosystem will do the job instead. A holistic approach to farming will see the environment begin to self-regulate, returning the favour with better crop quality, more nutritional value and a healthier yield. Not to mention a healthier ecosystem, too!

Soil in hands. Carbon in soil. Healthy soil. Regenerative agriculture.

Carbon what?

If nurtured correctly, soil can directly contribute towards balancing our changing climate by utilising and storing greenhouse gases in carbon sinks underground through the process of photosynthesis.

Soils with high levels of organic matter sequester carbon; meaning the healthier our ecosystem is underground, the more balanced our atmosphere is above ground. 

Carbon-rich soil can be detected with the human eye by looking at its colour; the darker the soil, the more carbon is present…

According to Ontl and Schulte, ecologists at Iowa State University, ⅓ of soil’s carbon loss is due to the intensive cultivation of land for food production. To increase soil’s carbon storing capacity, farmers can introduce regenerative practices such as reduced tillage; shifting to organic inputs; increasing crop diversity and cover cropping. 

With the capacity to hold twice as much carbon than the atmospherehealthy soil preservation plays a fundamental part in preventing climate change. Due to these astonishing findings, along with the surprising absence of global recognition into soil health and its effects on our environment, Soil Heroes decided to go directly into the belly of the beast… You may remember the open letter we wrote to COP26 in November, demonstrating that soil health must be at the basis of global climate discussions. We are proud of the wide scale recognition that it received and duly needed. Our CEO, Gina, was even invited to come along for an interview to discuss the issue!

Soil degradation

When degraded, soil loses its carbon storing capacity and becomes an emitter; creating an imbalance of excess CO2 in the atmosphere.

Over the past 70 years, as demand for food production increased, farmers had to be efficient and resourceful. Therefore, they used large machinery, pesticides and chemical fertilisers. These intensive farming methods destroy microorganisms that are fundamental to the web of life while compacting, eroding, and degrading the soil.

To put it into perspective…

  • Soil takes 100 years to rebuild just 5mm and moments to destroy
  • Researchers have seen a 10% decline in soil’s carbon storing capacity since 1978
  • Globally, we are losing 24 billion tonnes of fertile soil per year, that equates to 30 full size football pitches every single minute

Loss of healthy soil means less productive land and greater risk to our food system, added vulnerability to further erosion, and an increase in greenhouse gases releasing into the atmosphere. Healthy soil is being broken down at an alarming rate, far faster than it is able to naturally rebuild. This is a cause for urgent action because on soil, our future depends.

On the bright side

Led by farmers with the help of industry leading professionals, we have regenerative agriculture. A groundswell of change is happening in farming with a transition to a method that values the basics of farming in line with nature, uses modern technology, and drives the world towards a more fruitful, harmonious and prosperous tomorrow.

Since Soil Heroes was established 4 years ago, we’ve witnessed the increase of farmers and businesses joining us on our regenerative journey, really setting the tone and paving the way for future generations to come.

What we’re doing

Here at Soil Heroes, we are tackling these challenges by incentivising and supporting regenerative farmers while also enabling companies to minimise their carbon emissions and environmental impact. 

We work with companies to support the adoption of regenerating farming practices within their own supply chain (carbon insetting). This will build a more robust, long-lasting web of regenerative farms on a vast variety of soils, whilst supporting environmental integrity amongst companies on a global scale.

Our why, is to support farmers on their regenerative journey whilst helping environmentally concerned businesses move towards minimising their carbon emissions throughout their own supply chain.   

We recognise that farmers and businesses want to see real, measurable impact for their efforts. We provide this through our platform which carefully monitors and verifies the changes found in farmers soil health influenced by regenerative farming practices.

Education is key to awareness and, through our hands-on approach, we are here to inform as well as enable all to be a part of this positive change into a regenerative future. Whether completely new to regenerative practices, familiar, or a veteran, we recognise and reward those who want to be a part of the change.

See here for a closer look into one of our partnerships between Showsley Farm in the U.K. and three pioneering businesses.

Tom Ludwig Soil Heroes Carbon Insetting Regenerative Agriculture

Tom Ludwig

Business Development, UK

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