12 Ways Soil Affects Your Food and Your Health

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Soil organic matter

Soil organic matter (SOM) is a crucial and naturally-occurring component of soil. It’s where the nutrients for crops are stored, according to the USDA. It plays a role in the way water enters and is absorbed in the soil. It can also eliminate the need for compaction, the process of applying pressure with farm machinery on the soil to make it dense — compaction can lead to less oxygen and more nitrogen in the soil. As a result, the crops have smaller roots and are easily damaged.

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Soil fertility

When soil fertility — the soil capacity to supply nutrients to the food that is being grown — declines as a result of loss of soil organic matter, the nutrient cycle is broken and the agro-ecosystem is no longer balanced. When the organic matter is not restored, the gap between nutrient input and nutrient output widens, which can lead to lower yields.

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Fertilizer

Fertilizer is necessary to maintain the soil’s fertility. When crops are harvested, the nutrients they contain are not recycled back into the soil as it happens when they die. In order to make sure that nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are put back onto the field, farmers use fertilizers. Fertilizers keep agricultural production systems sustainable, but can cause other problems, such as hurting the environment. If used excessively, the extra nutrients from fertilizers end up in waterways, particularly nitrogen. The nitrate can easily leach, damaging microorganisms in the soil and contaminating water streams, killing fish.

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Soil erosion

Soil erosion is the natural loss of the soil’s top layer by water, wind, or tillage, which is the use of farm machines to prepare the soil for growing crops. Farming activities speed up erosion of the topsoil, which is rich in organic matter, resulting in loss of fertility. The planet has lost half of its topsoil over the last 150 years, according to the World Wildlife Fund. A damaged land is less able to hold water, making potential floods worse. In addition to less fertile land, soil erosion can lead to pollution in rivers and streams, which may result in the loss of fish.

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Intensive crop production

Intensive crop production is the process of growing large quantities of food using less land, people, and money. Big farms in the United States and Canada apply this system in areas with low value lands that are far away from markets. One problem with having farms in remote locations is that the more food has to travel, the higher the chance of contamination and the higher the loss of nutritional value. Intensive crop production can also deplete the soil, reducing its capacity to grow enough food to meet the needs of future generations.