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Soil | Agriculture

The soil is one of the most important bases of subsistence and a resource that is renewable to only a limited degree. Soil performs many vital functions. Soil fertility is a make or break factor for agriculture. But the impact of soil and agriculture on each other is not merely reciprocal: water, air, climate and biodiversity protection are also particularly important for these two elements.

Soil develops extremely slowly as the result of a millennial interplay between physical, chemical and biological processes. Climatic factors, soil organism mechanisms, and human use are the driving forces behind the gradual and extremely slow process whereby rock is transformed into soil: it takes between 100 and 300 years for one centimeter of fertile soil to develop.

Soil performs a whole host of functions. It forms the basis for the livelihood and habitats of humans, animals, plants and soil organisms. Soil is also the main component of terrestrial ecosystems and complex water and nutrient cycles. Soil filters and converts nutrients and other chemical substances, and in so doing in so doing protects groundwater resources, provides plants with nutrients, and affects the climate. In the soil, we can discern the history of nature and civilization. Residential and recreational areas, as well as industrial sites and infrastructure elements, are sited on open land and its attendant soil. What’s more, soil is the primary production factor of the forestry and agricultural sectors; and fertile soil forms the basis for our entire food chain.

If soil is indispensable for life on earth, careless use of this resource and underestimating its importance is an alarming development; for soils worldwide are under pressure. Substance loads and other pressures affect and impinge upon soil functions. Substance loads include atmospheric and agricultural nutrients and pollutants, as well as local contamination and pollution at abandoned sites. Substance loads can contribute to the presence of excessive soil nutrients and to soil and ecosystem acidification. Completely paving over open stretches of land results in the sealing and destruction of soil. Apart from this direct use of land and soil, non-substance loads also include wind and water erosion and soil compaction – all of which are primarily attributable to intensive farming. This constellation of pressures translates into a loss of soil fertility, and has a deleterious effect on soil functions as a whole. The rising temperatures and changes in precipitation associated with climate change also affect the soil and can potentially increase the risk for soils at innumerable sites. Agriculture plays two distinct roles in this regard. First, it is the largest land use factor in Germany and worldwide. Around half of Germany’s surface area is used for agricultural purposes; the figure worldwide is 38 percent. Hence the agricultural sector has a major role to play when it comes to protecting our soil, water, and air, as well as flora and fauna.

The state of agriculture is determined by the presence of intact environmental conditions. But, somewhat paradoxically, as agricultural activities often also cause environmental pollution, agriculture can be regarded as both a victim and perpetrator of pollution. One of the key management instruments in this domain is the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, which sets down strategies for dealing with the environmental impact of farming. Hence green agriculture is indispensable, for it is the key to ensuring that future generations will have a stable basis for food production.

Soil protection through consistent implementation of SDGs

Maria Krautzberger

The third Global Soil Week took place in April 2015 in Berlin. UBA was a partner in organizing the conference, which was hosted by the IASS and chaired by Klaus Töpfer. In her statement, Maria Krautzberger makes a case for utilizing the implementation of the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for promoting soil protection at all levels. read more

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Ecological impact of farming

Tractor with tow tube

Germany’s farming sector uses the largest amount of land, but is at the same a lynchpin of our economy – one that provides a reliable food supply and produces sustainable raw materials. The farming sector also plays a key role when it comes to preservation and development of the man-made environment. But increasingly intensive farming brings with it a host of eco-unfriendly effects. read more

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Video "Let´s Talk About Soil"

A soil profile with differently coloured layers of brown earth.

Nearly every single human activity has an ecological impact on the complex soil system. Agricultural practices which are not adapted to local conditions are the main cause of soil degradation worldwide. The growth of world population and the increasing global demand for vegetable raw materials and meat are increasing the demand for fertile soil. At the same time, soil is being lost through erosion... read more

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Ammonia emissions from intensive rearing of pigs at high levels

rearing pig

Extensive emissions of Ammonia into the air remain a well-known problem for years. This has resulted in oversupply with nutrients, processes of acid deposition and the loss of biological diversity in ecosystems. The largest part of ammonia emissions in Germany is generated in the agriculture sector (95 %), with 52 % stemming from cattle farming and 20 % from intensive rearing of pigs. read more

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Tradable land planning permits

Tradable land planning permits

The purpose of tradable land planning permits is to control the use of new land for settlement and transport. Municipalities would be restricted in developing greenfield land outside of existing built-up areas for new settlement and transport projects. The UBA is currently conducting a countrywide pilot project with selected municipalities. read more

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Biogas must become more environmentally friendly

Biogasanlage, im Vordergrund ein Maisfeld

Production of biomass and its use to generate electricity and heat have increased greatly in Germany in recent years, driven by the Renewable Energy Sources Act. The Agriculture Commission at the UBA (KLU) has formulated recommendations on how its further expansion can be designed in an environmentally and nature-friendly way. read more

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The Umweltbundesamt

For our environment