COLLEGE STATION, Texas – The general public may not be as tied to the land as they once were, but scientists want them to see more than “dirt” when they view the precious commodity of “soil” and be a part of its future protection, writes Kay Ledbetter for Texas A&M AgriLife.

Ledbetter shares that at a recent meeting of the 2015 Global Soil Security Symposium, which brought scientists, policy influencers, investors and citizens together at Texas A&M University in College Station to start the process of developing an international soil security policy.

Whether it is needed to filter nutrients, produce biomass, grow raw materials for food and fiber, or secure carbon, the soil is a valuable natural resource that needs to be maintained in order to allow for sustainable production, said Dr. Cristine Morgan, Texas A&M department of soil and crop sciences professor and a co-chair for the event.

Soil capability can be limited by erosion due to natural causes such as wind and water, or human forces such as building and surface sealing, Morgan said.

Soil security, like food security, has a number of dimensions that interact with environmental, social and economic components, according to a report released from the event.

Soil conditions reflect human management and how that alters or enhances the soil functions.

“Much of the focus on soil condition is associated with agriculture, but functions of soil not linked to agriculture—urbanization, mining and nature preserves—are equally important,” Morgan said.

The assessment of soil condition is commonly associated with measurement of the soil’s organic carbon as an indicator of improved condition, however, improvements in soil condition or function may not always be reflected by changes in organic carbon.

Those concerned with achieving soil security recognize that attainment involves scientific, economic, industry and political engagement to effectively and credibly inform policy and legal frameworks and implement appropriate actions, according to the report.

Those attending the symposium outlined the following goals in the area of soil condition:

  • Reduce soil nutrient depletion by 50 percent by 2030.
  • Increase water capture by 20 percent by 2030.
  • Increase carbon content of agriculture-based topsoil by 20 percent by 2030.
  • Reduce soil losses to the tolerable soil erosion rate for 90 percent of managed soil by 2030.

The group determined aesthetic consideration can drive the general population to appreciate and understand the relevance of soil.

“We hope that participatory learning by managers and experiential learning at schools can have the potential to change mindsets on soil value and management,” Morgan said. “Intergenerational equity is a strong human driver of soil security.

“The soil health concept provides an effective means of connecting the importance of sustainable soil management by soil managers with the broader community,” she said. “And, it provides the means to help build recognition by society of the important role that soil managers play in maintaining soil function for the production of food, fiber and other ecosystem services.”