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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.

Global Soil Week 2013

Teilnehmer der Global Soil Week 2012 sagen "see you in 2013"

Once lost, it is gone forever: the soil beneath our feet. Each year, billions of tonnes are lost due to erosion, indiscriminant environmental exploitation and poor political decisions. Hunger and the intensification of conflicts over land rights are some of the devastating results of this loss. Yet, it is not too late to work against the further loss of our soil. read more


Reducing land use: UBA launches pilot project

Newly-built quarter away from any infrastructure

An area the size of 113 football pitches is designated for new settlements and transport areas every day in Germany. A solution to this problem might be the introduction of a system of supraregional trade in land area certificates whereby every city and municipality has a limited amount of land area outside of existing settlements on which new building is allowed. read more


Soil of the Year

Red grapes on a vineyard.

Germany is blessed with many different types of soil. In the interest of shedding greater light on the world beneath our feet, each December 5th, on World Soil Day, the Soil of the Year is presented. A panel of experts selects the soil in question. In announcing the Soil of the Year, the panel indicatesamong other things its characteristics, origin and significance for today’s society. read more


The Umweltbundesamt

For our environment