Numerous natural stress factors, including erosion and soil-borne pests, have an impact on soil quality. The greatest impact on soil quality, however, comes from agricultural practices used in food production. Agricultural practices vary according to the climate, the crops produced, the level of technology adoption and the amount of arable land available for food production, but almost always aim to get the best possible yield.
Agriculture is under intense pressure to increase production. The available fertile farmland per person in 2050 is predicted to be less than a third of that in 1950. But soil erosion and water quality compromise its productivity.
Fighting soil erosion
For thousands of years, humans have developed a wide range of land uses. Modern land practices accelerate natural soil erosion to a rate that exceeds the speed of natural soil formation. Today, urbanization, deforestation and agriculture are the three key areas that influence the rate of soil erosion. Excessive erosion causes serious environmental problems, which include the loss of fertile soil, water sedimentation leading to damaged ecosystems as well as the release of soil-bound carbon emissions.
As an integral part of sustainable intensive agriculture and environmental stewardship activities, Syngenta advises and trains growers on conservation tillage, land sculpting techniques, planting practices, cropping systems and rotations as well as harvest and traffic patterns to avoid soil degradation in a range of crops all around the world.
Soil and climate change
Agriculture produces roughly one third of all man-made greenhouse gases. In addition, land use change (e.g. deforestation) contributes a further 17% of all emissions. Mature grassland and forest can contain many hundreds of tons of carbon stored above and below ground. Removing vegetation and plowing this land releases on average more than 100 tons of CO2e per hectare (“e” stands for equivalent – CO2e is one of the widely used units for reporting greenhouse gas emissions). Syngenta technology improves productivity while providing immediate opportunities to make the most of existing agricultural land and therefore reduce greenhouse gas emissions from land-use change. Reduced tillage systems using herbicides for weed control help to sequester more carbon as organic matter in soil. Globally, 2 to 3 billion metric tons of carbon can be stored per year in soil. As a reference, fossil fuel emissions of carbon to the atmosphere average six billion tons a year.
Of special interest are rice crops, where conservation tillage enables the farmers to drain their fields several times a year. This reduces the amount of water used to grow the crop and helps to limit methane emissions, a powerful greenhouse gas.
The future of soil is linked to sustainable land use
By 2050, our global population is expected to reach 9 billion people and the demand for food will grow by 70%. Even if we could convert all remaining land to arable land, we will get nowhere near meeting the future demand for food without increasing agricultural productivity. Success requires farmers having access to a range of agricultural solutions, education to gain necessary skills, and financial incentives, says FAO. Sustainable farming solutions include not tilling the land, crop rotations, bringing vegetation back to degraded land and planting vegetation around fields to prevent erosion.
Better farming practices can halt and even reverse the process of soil degradation. Farmers can produce higher yields on existing farmland, prevent further loss of fertile land, and find innovative ways to make use of marginal land, especially in growing economies. Syngenta is the leading company that can bring all these technologies to growers around the world.
Join us today in honoring agriculture’s crucial role in soil conservation.