By: Helen Browning
Published: The Ecologist, Nov. 8, 2013

As a farmer, my foremost responsibility is to protect and enhance the soil in my care. It can take more than 500 years to generate an inch of soil, yet our farming activity can erode or degrade it in a decade or two if we are not careful.

Even as an organic farmer, where the system is designed to protect and build soils, I’m aware that the move to bigger machinery, the need to cultivate and plough to control weeds, and our seemingly ever more volatile weather can put soils at risk.

At agricultural college, we were taught much more about the chemistry and physics of soils than we were about the biology, and given scientists have recently admitted that they know about maybe only around 20% of the soil’s microbial population, that’s probably still true today.

But soil always fascinated me, and as a research student on the first Government funded project on organic farming in 1984, it quickly became clear to me that the yield and health of plants was determined by soil biological factors as much or more than by theoretical nutrient availability.

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