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It’s Not Too Late to Save the Soil - The Earth’s Fragile Skin

by Martin Lane(more info)

listed in environmental, originally published in issue 219 - January 2015

Damaged Soils and Disappearing Fresh Water

Documentary evidence shows that mineral content of UK-grown food crops has declined by some 60% since 1940.  This decline has been matched by a commensurate fall in soil humus levels and in beneficial soil organisms.  If the Earth were represented by a football, then the thickness of our fragile soils on its surface would be one millionth of a micron.  In the last century Man has created deserts, dustbowls and poisoned waterways, but has still failed to learn the lessons.

For example, the Aral Sea in the former Soviet Union has completely disappeared due to irrigation schemes for cotton crops and the formerly vast Ogallala aquifer under the Great Plains of the USA is shrinking rapidly and does not replenish itself. Much of the blame rests with rapacious modern agriculture practices.

Soil Collage Banner

The soil and the sea are the only two things on Earth that support life and we have abused them both.  In the European Union we have two flagship pieces of legislation; the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy.  Both are fatally flawed and unsustainable.

There Over 90 Soil Minerals; Only 3 are Regularly Replenished

Modern agriculture and horticulture are short-term in the extreme. In the last 70 years we have mined minerals and organic matter to such an extent that livestock cannot thrive on our pastures without supplements.  We humans live off the same land and suffer the same mineral deficiencies. Phosphate, Potash and Nitrogen (NPK) are the only components of most fertilisers.

Developing countries are suffering from flood, famine and starvation, largely caused by over-population and unsustainable farming practises.  Meanwhile, the developed world is full of overfed, obese people, who are nevertheless just as malnourished - eating food rich in calories, but with low nutritional value.  The problem is exacerbated by the extensive use of agrochemical herbicides and pesticides, many of which are now being found to be toxic to soil life, wildlife and humans.  Historically, the process of testing these chemicals for environmental damage has been slack and opaque.  Fortunately, the EU is now taking a much tougher line and increasing numbers of damaging chemicals are being banned. 

Vested Interests

Inevitably, large corporations that have grown very rich on the current food production paradigm are not easily persuaded to change. Some of them are large multinationals with turnovers exceeding the GNP of many countries.  A significant part of their corporate wealth is spent lobbying compliant officials and politicians in order to advance their own interests. 

The Social Consequences of Poor Nutrition

Many people, mostly through a lack of awareness, eat an appalling diet.  Long before they are struck down by chronic disease in later life, they often exhibit poor health and a lack of vigour.  Some even exhibit anti-social behavioural traits that lead on to a life of social disorder and criminal activity.  Studies clearly show a link between anti-social behaviour and poor nutrition.  Young offenders show marked improvements in behaviour when weaned off ‘junk’ food and fed a proper diet, thereby becoming much more employable.  Without intervention, many of these young offenders become habitual criminals who create another financial drain on society.  The combined forces of law and order cost the taxpayer another £33 billion per year.  Close analysis of the way this money is spent will show a significant potential saving were we to legislate for optimal nutritional content of all food, from the ‘value’ range to more expensive lines.

The Need for Government Action

So far, the response of successive governments to the problem has been a deafening silence.  This despite the admission that the NHS now spends 47% of its budget treating nutrition-related disorders.  47% of £125 billion is £59 billion, or if you prefer, nearly double the defence budget!  Add that to the social cost and one begins to see a way out of the budget deficit.

The Answer Really Does Lie in the Soil

In the UK and Europe we are blessed with relatively deep, resilient soils of glacial origin.  It is not too late to change direction and farm in a sustainable way without losing production.  A balanced soil allows any crop to access essential nutrients and pass them on to us.  Balanced soils allow a symbiotic relationship to exist between plants and soil organisms.  In return for getting better access to water and soil nutrients, the plant feeds the organisms with molecules of starch and sugar.  Crops grown this way require less fertiliser and less agrochemical input, because the crops have a fully developed immune system, are more vigorous and less prone to disease.

Ironically, heavy applications of chemical fertiliser kills off many species of soil biota, destroys this delicate symbiosis and increases the need for applied fertiliser to maintain yield.  A win-win situation for the manufacturers, a lose-lose for producers and consumers.

How Tomorrow’s Fertilisers Will Help to Save the Planet

To maintain productivity in future, food producers will still need to use fertilisers, but the next generation fertiliser will need to ‘feed’ the soil, sustain the beneficial soil organisms and replenish all that the crop and husbandry remove.   Sustainable fertilisers should be sourced from animal by-products, composts, anaerobic digestates, non-fossil fuel nitrogen sources and a wide spread of essential minerals.  This will result in a slower release of plant nutrients and less nitrate and phosphate pollution in watercourses.  If growers can demonstrate that the return of organic matter to the soil is increasing soil carbon content, they may become eligible for carbon credits in future; if the labyrinthine rules surrounding Kyoto allow it.

One thing is certain; the status quo is not sustainable.  On average, only 30% of applied nitrogen fertiliser is taken up by the crop; the rest is wasted.  It has been shown that these fertilisers are only in contact with the crop for around 11 days during the growing season.  Afterwards they either enter the atmosphere as potent greenhouse gases, or slip below the root zone and end up in our rivers and aquifers.  Both the wasted energy cost of production and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions are unacceptable, not to mention the cost of removing unwanted nitrates and phosphates from rivers and drinking water.

Fortunately, the problems are finally being addressed.  My company has for some time been involved in a process, invented, developed and brought to market in Devon, to restore the virtuous circle of livestock production, improve sustainability and reduce environmental pollution.  This company has patented a completely new way of processing animal by-products, converting them quickly and economically into multi-mineral, slow release fertilisers.

The Revolutionary Grass to Grass Process

The soil provides the crops the animals eat and ultimately, we eat the animals, or at least the meat products.  Unfortunately, much of the animal is not suitable for consumption and most is therefore rendered and then incinerated to avoid disease and consigned to landfill; a crude and wasteful system.  To restore lost soil fertility, the usual synthetic fertilisers are then spread to compensate for losses due to rearing livestock.  This is a linear system, environmentally damaging and uses up finite Earth resources.

The new process changes everything.  Animal by-products from abattoirs together with other suitable nutrient by-products, are broken down from organic compounds to become inorganic, pathogen-free, slow release fertilisers.   This system recycles nutrients instead of wasting them to landfill.  It provides a virtuous circle, improves soil health, reduces atmospheric and watercourse pollution and restores all essential nutrients to the soil.  All crops grown for either human or animal consumption on these soils will provide us with the best nutrition available anywhere in the world.

I am very pleased to say that major players in the food and farming industries are now taking a keen interest.




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About Martin Lane

Martin Lane Technical Director of Field Science Ltd has had a lifelong interest in farming. After leaving the RAF, where he did Cold War service flying in the UK and Germany, he developed an interest in the declining standard of plant, animal and human health resulting from industrialized chemical agriculture ( 40-60% of the essential mineral content of our food has disappeared since 1940, to be replaced by an average of 200 chemical residues). Martin worked with a pioneer in the improvement of livestock health via optimal nutrition and then formed a family-owned company specializing in the improvement of plant, livestock and human health through re-mineralizing soils after many decades of synthetic fertiliser and chemical abuse.

Martin still does a lot of work with livestock, dairy and arable farmers to improve the nutritional quality of crops and livestock and also works with a major retailer to provide meat, fruit and vegetables of much improved nutritional quality. He also re-mineralizes sports and amenity land to improve quality and provide a natural resistance to disease. Martin believes that the best way to improve human health is to re-create healthy soil. Healthy soil produces healthy plants for the consumption of healthy animals and humans alike. We should never forget that 47% of the NHS budget is spent treating diseases and conditions which are the direct and indirect results of poor quality nutrition. Martin may be contacted on Tel: 01935 873933;

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