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A celebration of soil

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Today, Dec. 5, is one of the most important days of the year! It’s World Soil Day. It is also the beginning of the United Nation’s International Year of Soils and the first anniversary of the Soil Renaissance.

Why, you ask, should we celebrate soil? Soil is one of four things in the world that weIYS Logo Low Res Square cannot live without. Rounding out the mighty quartet are air, sunlight and water. (March 22 is World Water Day, if you want to mark your calendar.) Without soil, air, sunlight, and water—or what the alchemists described as earth, air, fire and water—life as we know it would not exist.

All these are so common that, for the most part, we take them for granted and rarely take time to think about them. Yet we need air to breath, water to drink, sunlight for energy and soil to produce food, fiber and shelter. The clothes you are wearing are likely made of cotton or other natural fibers (linen, wool) produced from plants or animals that eat plants nurtured in soil. The home you live in built from wood (from trees) or brick (from clay). Without soil, you would have no food, no clothing, and no home.

Led by Farm Foundation, NFP and the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, the Soil Renaissance is an initiative to make soil and soil health the cornerstone of all land management decisions. The Soil Renaissance has an aggressive Strategic Plan focused on four key foundational issues: a standard for measuring soil health; the economic returns of soil health investments; research needs and priorities; and education and outreach.

While the two Foundations are leading the Soil Renaissance, collaboration is the linchpin to its success. No single person or organization can fully address the diverse and complex issues of soil health across the United States and the world. In its first year, farmers, ranchers, educators, researchers, suppliers, NGOs, foundations and government agencies have joined the Soil Renaissance with their expertise and support. All value the maintenance and protection of soils and soil health. Learn more about the Soil Renaissance and how you can be part of it at www.soilrenaissance.org.

 So what do you need to know about soil to start the celebration?

  • Soil is not dirt. Dirt is a four letter word we just don’t use when talking about soil. We can live without dirt but not soil. Dirt is the stuff under your fingernails or that you sweep off the floor. Soil, on the other hand, is the embodiment of life. It nurtures crops, clothes us, provides shelter, purifies water and helps mitigate our climate by storing carbon. We should not and cannot afford to treat soil like dirt.

  • Soil is deeply connected to our culture through our literature, art and religion. Much of our recreational activities rely on soil—from hiking paths to sports fields and golf courses.

  • Soil is alive. There are more organisms in a teaspoon of soil than there are people on earth. The organisms are vital to soil health. Soils with a diverse microbial population are healthier and better able to provide for us. The organisms in the soil benefit our health, as well. The antibiotic Streptomycin was discovered by the Nobel Prize winning soil microbiologist Dr. Selman Waksman and his graduate students. Many other organisms await our discovery.

  • Soil is an unrenewable resource. We need to manage our soil properly. It may take hundreds to thousands of years to develop an inch of topsoil, but only a few minutes to destroy it. Today’s management relies on improving soil health. The key tenants of soil health focus on treating the soil as a whole ecosystem with a keen awareness of the importance of the biology, organic matter content, and the interrelation of all the soil forming factors.

To learn more about soil, visit the websites of the Soil Renaissance, World Soil Day, International Year of Soils, the Soil Science Society of America, or USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Remember, if you know soil you will know life, but if there is no soil there will be no life. Happy World Soil Day!


David Lindbo David Lindbo (david_lindbo@ncsu.edu)
Professor of Soil Science, North Carolina State University Past President, Soil Science Society of America

View more posts by David Lindbo

The views and opinions expressed in AgChllenge2050 blog posts are solely the opinions of the authors, and not those of Farm Foundation, NFP.