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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.

The Federal Environment Agency Soil Protection Commission

Soil protection continues to be treated as the stepchild of environmental politics. This is not just, for soils and their many interconnections to water, air and the climate as well as providing the site for foods and feedstuffs play a crucial role at the heart of precautionary environmental politics. To support the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) in the area of soil protection, Prof. Dr. Andreas... read more

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Site contamination

Graphic realization of a multifarious land use

According to the Federal Soil Conservation Act (Bundes-Bodenschutzgesetz), “site contamination” is contamination at abandoned waste or industrial sites that provokes deleterious changes in the ground or other threats to public health. Such phenomena are caused by improper handling, storage or depositing of waste and improper use of environmentally hazardous substances. read more

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Learning about and experiencing soil

Anthill in forest

Life in all its multifarious forms would be unthinkable without the earth’s various soils, which can only assure a plentiful and healthy supply of food and drinking water if their ecology remains intact. But how can we best ensure that our soils are used judiciously and responsibly as habitats and resources? The UBA contributes to soil stewardship among other things by disseminating information. read more

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Soil functions

A mole on the surface.

Soil carries out myriad functions that are free of charge and extremely powerful, and that are what make soil so valuable not only to us but also to natural flora and fauna. Clean water and healthy food are only obtainable if our soils are healthy too. And while the soil supports myriad functions, it also needs stewardship. read more

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Organic farming

Close-up of an organically grown apple

Organic products taste good, and make a positive contribution to human health and environmental protection. What’s more, organic farming is a sustainable activity that uses far fewer resources than conventional farming. It is also environmentally and livestock friendly. read more

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The Umweltbundesamt

For our environment