The world is in the midst of a silent crisis. The process of soil degradation has been happening for years, but it’s only recently that we’ve begun to understand its implications on global agriculture and human health.

This article will deep dive into this slow-motion disaster and investigate the causes, consequences, and what you can do to protect yourself from them. It’s a bit of a history lesson, but feel free to skip to the end for the four key tips you can put into action today.

Why is soil so important?

It may look like dirt, but soil may very well be the source of all complex life on earth. This diverse, living network of funghi, bacteria, and other microorganisms converts waste matter into the nutrients that fuel all life. They are the critical link in the real circle of life. Without healthy soil, there would be no plants. Without plants, no complex life.

Healthy soil creates an abundance of nutrients for our food crops, which in turn nourish us – but damaged and undernourished struggles to replenish nutrients fast enough, leading to both less food produced and less nutritious food. Mineral levels in fruit, vegetable, meat & dairy have all declined significantly over the last 70 years. We now ingest, on average, only HALF the minerals we consumed in 1940. Magnesium levels have fallen by 76%, iron by 82%, and copper has declined by 85%!

What’s behind soil health decline?

There are many parts to this story, but it starts with the industrialisation of agriculture which began in earnest in the 20th century, encouraged by ambition, profit and war…

Monocrop Specialisation

Farming changed more between 1900 and 1999 than in the previous 13,000 years. Learning from the efficiencies of factory assembly lines, food production became a specialised discipline. Farmers who previously grew many crops and tended to a range of animals, began to specialise and diversified farms gave way to single crop operations and animal husbandry became separated from crop farming.

This specialisation increased efficiency, but it also reduced the ability of farmers to rotate between different crops and animals, resulting in fields being constantly sewn with the same thing. This meant the same soil nutrients were called on harvest after harvest, year after year. This puts huge pressure on soils causing both crop yields, and quality to begin to decline.

Monostrain Intensification

As two world wars threatened food supplies, yield became paramount. Keeping the nation fed became the domain of policymakers, who knew every square foot of arable land had to produce as much food as possible. Previously a single field of, say, wheat might contain multiple varieties that were adapted to the local conditions. Policy mandated the use of just a few high yield varieties to keep people fed. The right decision at the time, but it further intensified the strain on soils and reduced the diversity and nutrient density of the food we were eating. After the war was over, there was little incentive to revert to the old methods because these high yields were more lucrative.

Chemical Fertilizers

The progress towards a mono-variety farming was boosted along by the introduction in the early 1900s of chemical fertilizers. Using these ‘inputs’ – as the industry reductively calls them – allowed for more intensive use of the same soils. They added in the missing nutrients and initially stimulated great increases in yield. But the use of chemical fertilizers became a vicious circle; as soils lost their natural fertility, ever-greater quantities of fertilizer were needed to maintain yields. Worse still, the use of fertilizers increased soil erosion and accelerated loss of organic matter in the topsoil, making the soil more and more nutrient poor with each rainy season.

Pesticides

The use of chemical pesticides was the final blow to soil health. The use of DDT and other pesticides began in the 1940s, accelerating after WWII when a surplus of chemicals developed for war were used in agriculture. The use of pesticides was a response to increased disease caused by monocropping and the intensification of farming practices. This ‘silver bullet’ mentality led to the widespread use of these toxic chemicals, with farmers applying them liberally and often indiscriminately.

The reliance on pesticides and chemical fertilizers was a nail in the coffin for soil biodiversity, killing off earthworms, microbes and other organisms that are essential to healthy soils as well as indiscriminately killing off beneficial bugs that prey on the very pests we sought to eliminate.

Today, farmers find themselves in an increasingly expensive cycle of applying chemical fertilizers and pesticides in ever-increasing quantity to obtain the same yield. Not only is this a desperate waste of money, but it is also driving the degradation of soils and contaminating our food, water and air.

Our Food Has Less Nutrients Today Than Ever Before

The sad irony is that all these intensive farming practices, which were introduced in order to increase our food production and feed the world, have actually resulted in the opposite.

The erosion of our soils has led to a decline in nutritional value of food. This is particularly true for vegetables, which have lost up to 40 percent of their nutrients since 1970.

So what can we do about it?

1. Switch to Organic Fruit & Veg

Firstly, we can buy organic food and support local farmers who use regenerative practices. Not only is organic farming is largely considered to be a more sustainable way to farm, as it does not rely on chemical fertilizers and pesticides, it also delivers produce that is up to 60% more nutritious. 

Choosing organic is better for you, and money talks – the more we choose organic, the more incentive there is for farming to adopt better practices again.

2. Eat Seasonal wherever you can

Shopping in season is the best way to make sure your food is at its most nutritious, and generally from closer to home. Your FOGA shakes are always picked in season, giving you the best you can any time of year.

3. Frozen & Freeze Dried is your Friend

Eating fresh & seasonal is the best, but if you fancy strawberries in April – and who would blame you – then your best bet is to buy frozen or freeze-dried ones for a smoothie or ice cream. They’re more stable than fresh, so preserve more nutrients, but will have been picked in season so are more nutritious (and delicious) in the first place.

4. Consider filling the gaps with a quality multivitamin

With declining nutrient values, it might pay to think about filling in the gaps with a full spectrum multinutrient. Look for food state on labels, as these should be more easily absorbed by the body and think quality over quantity – you are better off taking a food state premium supplement every few days than a cheap one every day.

 

References & Recommended Reading

You might like to read

The Nature of Nature by Enric Sala

Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake

The Eight Master Lessons of Nature by Gary Ferguson

Amongst others, we used info from

McCance RA, Widdowson EM. The Mineral Depletion Of Foods Available To Us As a Nation (1940–2002) – A Review of the 6th Edition of McCance and Widdowson.

Mayer AM. Historical changes in the mineral content of fruits and vegetables.

Baranski M. et al. Higher antioxidant concentrations and less cadmium and pesticide residues in organically-grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses

Vallejo F, Tomas-Barberan F, Garcia-Viguera C. Health-promoting compounds in broccoli as influenced by refrigerated transport and retail sale period

Davis D. Declining Fruit and Vegetable Nutrient Composition: What Is the Evidence?

[wpforms id="95678" title="false"]
<div class="wpforms-container " id="wpforms-95678"><form id="wpforms-form-95678" class="wpforms-validate wpforms-form" data-formid="95678" method="post" enctype="multipart/form-data" action="/soil-health/" data-token="43f30fdbb3d899236c152bd46e6b3efe"><noscript class="wpforms-error-noscript">Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.</noscript><div class="wpforms-field-container"><div id="wpforms-95678-field_3-container" class="wpforms-field wpforms-field-email" data-field-id="3"><label class="wpforms-field-label" for="wpforms-95678-field_3">Email <span class="wpforms-required-label">*</span></label><input type="email" id="wpforms-95678-field_3" class="wpforms-field-large wpforms-field-required" name="wpforms[fields][3]" required></div><div id="wpforms-95678-field_4-container" class="wpforms-field wpforms-field-password" data-field-id="4"><label class="wpforms-field-label" for="wpforms-95678-field_4">Password <span class="wpforms-required-label">*</span></label><input type="password" id="wpforms-95678-field_4" class="wpforms-field-large wpforms-field-required" name="wpforms[fields][4]" required></div></div><div class="wpforms-submit-container"><input type="hidden" name="wpforms[id]" value="95678"><input type="hidden" name="wpforms[author]" value="3530"><input type="hidden" name="wpforms[post_id]" value="141335"><button type="submit" name="wpforms[submit]" id="wpforms-submit-95678" class="wpforms-submit" aria-live="assertive" value="wpforms-submit">Submit</button></div></form></div> <!-- .wpforms-container -->