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Soil, climate and food

Soil quality key to increasing crop production and resilience to climate change
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Useful worm comes up from the fresh earth

New research has found that high-quality cropland soils limit losses in response to warmer climates and support higher yields.

The international team of experts, including Professor Pete Smith from the University of Aberdeen, found that improving soil quality could reduce the climate change-induced decline in crop production in China by as much as 20%.

‘It is estimated that global food production may have to increase by as much as 60-100% by 2050 to meet projected demands.

‘However, agriculture is facing greater challenges than ever with climate change and soil degradation being among the biggest stressors, not only constraining crop production capacity but also causing great volatility.’

PROFESSOR MINGSHENG FAN
Lead author, China Agriculture University

Soil is the solution

In the study, published in Nature Climate Change, the authors from China, the UK and Germany addressed how the interactions between soil quality and climate change influence food output productivity from croplands.

The team suggests that soil quality, defined as the capacity of the soil to provide nutrients and water, holds the solution to both resilience to climate change and future food security.

‘Soil quality has recently received a lot of attention with a growth of interest in regenerative agriculture to restore and enhance soil quality.  However, there is a dearth of good quality information about its real potential. 

‘This study goes some way towards showing that better management of soils will enhance yields as well as, potentially, improving carbon sequestration, water holding potential and soil biodiversity.’

PROFESSOR TIM BENTON
Royal Institute of International Affairs

Soil and food security

In the paper, the researchers warn that inadequate consideration of soil quality and interactions with climate change will impede general understanding of the food security challenge in the face of rapidly changing environmental conditions.  

They found that across crops and environmental conditions, high-quality soils reduced the sensitivity of crop yield to climate variability, leading to higher and more stable crop yields. Compared with low-quality soils, high-quality soils also improved the outcome for yields under climate change.

‘In climate change research, soils are often regarded as carbon pools that respond to climate change and management. However, the importance of soil quality for land productivity and thus the potential to sequester carbon in ecosystems has not been sufficiently considered so far.’

DR CHRISTOPH MÜLLER
Co-author, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

Professor Pete Smith, chair in Plant and Soil Science from University of Aberdeen, explained: ‘This study shows that improving soil quality will be a critical strategy for adapting to climate change and avoiding some of the inevitable negative effects of increased temperatures that will occur even if the Paris climate goals can be achieved.’

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