Recently, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) placed a map demonstrating that the top 30 cm of the world’s soil has about twice as much carbon as the atmosphere. Soil is the second largest organic carbon sink after the oceans, just like is for online gamers.

It can take in more carbon dioxide from the air than forests and other plants. These statistics try to convince us how significant healthy soils are, not just for growing food but also for preventing the worst impacts of climate change.

Soil is affected by climate change

Climate change is already having effects around the world and in Europe. For example, the EEA’s most recent report on climate change, its effects, and how vulnerable Europe is to it says that since the 1950s, soil moisture has gone down a lot in the Mediterranean region and some parts of northern Europe. As average temperatures continue to rise and rain patterns change, the report says similar effects will happen over the next few decades.

If soil moisture keeps going down, farmers may need to water their crops more, yields may go down, and the land could even become desert, which could significantly affect food production. Thirteen EU member countries have said that desertification is a problem. Even though this is true, a recent report from the European Court of Auditors said that Europe does not possess a clear understanding of the problems caused by desertification and land degradation, and the steps taken to stop desertification are not well thought out.

The yearly cycles of animals and plants can also be thrown off by changes in seasonal temperatures, which can lead to lower yields. For example, spring can come earlier, and trees bloom before pollinating insects have hatched. With the world’s population expected to grow, food production must go up. 

A lot of this depends on keeping the soil healthy and ensuring that agricultural areas are run sustainably. At the same time, there is a growing need for biofuel production and other plant-based products to replace fossil fuels and stop the release of greenhouse gases.

Taking carbon out of the air

There are also many ways to make the land better at pulling carbon dioxide out of the air. A recent European investigation called the Caprese study found that turning farmland into grassland is the fastest way to add carbon to the soil. For arable land, growing cover crops like clover between harvests and planting the next crop was the best way to add carbon to the soil. Cover crops are plants grown between harvests and planting the next crop to improve soil fertility and prevent erosion.

On the other hand, changing how land is used can also transform areas and turn them into sources of emissions. Some examples include draining peatlands, incinerating peat from bogs to heat homes, and ploughing up grassland and farmland, all of which release carbon that had been stored. For forests, the process is the same, but it takes longer.