The definition leaves no room for doubt: "Central basis of life for plants and directly or indirectly for human beings and animals." But it was clear even before the entry in the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia: the soil is the basis for everything. And the reason why it must be protected can already be derived from this realisation. One of the threats, if not the most important one, is erosion, i.e. the loss of fertile soil through wind or water.
More than intercrops
Anyone who deals with the topic will quickly find: An isolated consideration is pointless. "Get the soil in shape", says Dr. Jana Epperlein summarising the objective of all protective measures. The focus is on the system concept, adds the expert of the Society for Soil and Water Conserving Tillage (Gesellschaft für konservierende Bodenbearbeitung e.V. - GKB) located in Neuenhagen near Berlin, and that means: "Covered soil is protected and alive." Harvest residues, says Epperlein, are not sufficient for this protection; it would have to be vegetation. The scientist sees intercrops as one, however not the only method and calls for more creativity in crop production, for example mixed crops.
Due to the advancing climate change, farmers around the world must think about how they can protect their soil against erosion, for extreme weather events will probably increase. And they should - both literally and metaphorically - not remain on the surface when it comes to soil protection. The topic has, in a sense, its ups and downs: Producers must also be very careful with the underground structures and the soil life.
Limits of loadability
It has almost already become the classic against compacted soil in which the structure is no longer as it should be and life in the soil has difficulties in surviving - tyres with regulated inflation pressure or twin tyres for agricultural machines. Basically, the idea is to plan crossings well, or like it says in the DLG information leaflet entitled "Soil-protecting use of agricultural machines" (Bodenschonender Einsatz von Landmaschinen): "The mechanical loadability of the soil is limited. The objective must be to support the weight and tensile forces of agricultural machines on stable ground with minimal rutting."
The loadability can be increased, as is proven by a quote from the DLG information leaflet: "Soil tillage methods with reduced frequency, intensity and depth of intervention strengthen the loading capacity of the soil". The often good trafficability of soil cultivated in a preserving manner, even in a very damp state, must not tempt farmers to carry out field work under these conditions, say the DLG experts.
The right protection for every soil type
Systematic soil protection combined with technical solutions with horticultural measures, such as undersowing, which reduce or prevent inner erosion ("washing out") in arable crops. The list could be continued almost indefinitely and could still be extended a great deal in detail, as depending on the soil type and crops grown, another strategy is required.
The "World Reference Base for Soil Resources" distinguishes 32 reference soil groups, which are further differentiated with additional characteristics. This diversity of soil types is reflected in the guiding theme of AGRITECHNICA 2019: Global Farming - Local Responsibility. The right (individual) protection for every soil.
Maintaining the natural soil fertility, or ideally increasing it, is not an "ecological end in itself". On the contrary, farmers safeguard their existence with it and - considering the Wikipedia definition - the basis for life. Soil protection in agricultural practice assumes that farmers are aware of their responsibility and possess the necessary know-how. For soil scientist Epperlein, this already begins in training and studies. In Germany she considers the colleges and universities to be on the right path in research and education. In practical training, the classic agricultural apprenticeship, it could be somewhat more according to the GKB expert.
- Soil is the central basis for life
- Erosion is a worldwide problem
- Systematic soil protection as a strategy
- Convey know-how and awareness for soil protection