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Soil. The home of plants. Without soil, plants would be unable to grow as they would lack the nutrients to build more plant matter. To a novice level plant parent, soil may seem pretty simple. Just a pot of dirt should suffice right? While you’re technically not wrong, look at it this way.
Would you rather live in a run down shack or a modern 3 story house? Most of you might agree that you would be more comfortable living in a nice house than a run down shack. This is how plants feel too.
Some plants will be able to survive any conditions, just look at plants that somehow grow in deserts. However, most plants will prefer to reside in soil that compliments their needs. From water retention to desired nutrients, the soil your plants are in can be a vital piece to their success or demise.
What are some problems with soil?
One problem with soil that can arise stems from farming. The constant tilling, planting and harvesting of crops can strip soil of its nutrients. After repeated crop cycles, the topsoil can become dry and nutrient deficient. This makes the soil unusable for plants and can cause dust storms such as the Dust Bowl back in the 1930s.
Another issue can be soil compaction. This occurs when the space between particles gets smaller and smaller over time. Whether this be due to the weight of machinery, animals or people; when soil gets compacted, rainwater or irrigation water will struggle to penetrate and move down into the soil. This results in poor root growth and root suffocation.
There are a few other issues that can arise with soil, such as incorrect pH level, contamination and erosion. All of these issues will prevent plants from thriving to their fullest extent. And while you’re at it, check out this blog from Soltech Solutions about smart pots What are Smart Pots? Are They Better For Your Indoor Plants?, that can help you understand how pots can affect soil.
How does this affect the wider global sphere?
In mid July 2022, the United Nations declared that around November 15th, 2022 the Earth’s human population will hit 8 billion. That number is so large its almost impossible to comprehend. Well this news shows how much we need good suitable farmland as the human population grows.
Looking at this graph from Our World in Data, you can see that it took until the early 1800’s to reach a population of 1 billion and it took about 120 years to reach 2 billion. The jump from 7 to 8 billion, the same amount it took 120 years to grow, happened in just the past 11 years. Why is this important? More people means more food is needed. More food means more farming. More farming means less healthy soil.
So why don’t we just farm where we haven’t before? The answer again lies in soil composition. Although there is a lot of open land on Earth, not all of it is farmable. The Sahara desert is about 9.2 million square kilometers, yet none of it is farmable.
Soil innovations that can either revitalize or turn unusable soil into fertile soil will be a massive help to the possible large scale food insecurity issue that arises with an ever growing population.
Here are 7 Soil Innovations that we can’t wait to get our hands on:
1. Self-Watering Hydrogel Soil
As seen in this study from the University of Texas-Austin, researchers have developed a type of soil that waters itself.
This soil is filled with super-moisture-absorbent gels to capture water from the air. When the soil reaches a certain temperature, the gels release the water. This not only results in the plant being watered, but also allows for some water to evaporate into the air thus increasing humidity.
During their study, the researchers at UT-Austin were able to find that their soil retained 40% of the water it started with over 4 weeks compared to only 20% that the sand soil retained after just one week.
This level of water retention could drastically change how farming and plants are seen. You will no longer need to have farms near water supplies and you will be able to limit the amount of water you use to water them.
2. Kula Bio
Kula Bio produces sustainable nitrogen solutions focused on helping farmers keep up with ever changing regulations and demand. Instead of using synthetic fertilizer, farmers can use Kula-N, a biofertilizer that will stay in the ground, thus reducing the amount of runoff nitrogen found in water supplies. The most important part is how this does not reduce yield, so farmers using it can expect to produce the same amount while keeping their land healthy.
3. Wanda Agriculture Group
The Wanda Agriculture Group is an Kenyan based company that aims to help agriculture in Africa. From providing biofertilizers to small local farmers to building farm estates to helping provide farmers work from an already established position in a supply chain, it’s clear to see that their goal is to make farming a more sustainable and possible venture.
Wanda Organic is a subsection of the Wanda Agriculture Group that manufactures bio-organic fertilizers that increase nutrient turnover and can break down pesticide residue. This is all designed to fight the severe degradation of fertile soil, with the United Nations stating “about a third of the planet’s land falling under that category”.
4. Pattern Ag
In the modern technology age, data and analytics are becoming more and more prevalent in every industry. Agriculture is no different. Pattern Ag is a company that analyzes soil to allow for the optimization of crop protection and fertility.
They offer a pressure panel, performance panel and pro nutrient panel. Pressure panel is how they can predict and protect against pests that reside in the soil. This will help prevent plants from being eaten or having their nutrients stolen from them by these pests. Performance panel is how they predict pressure from certain diseases to steer growth in a certain direction.
This allows for farmers to understand what threats there are to their plants and act quickly if a crop is affected. Pro nutrient panel showcases what nutrients are present and what are missing. This allows for the insight into which need to be added and what can be causing certain ailments to crops.
Utilizing all of this data will allow for a better understanding of the soil the plants and crops are being put into, allowing for a better expectation of growth and yield.
5. Talam Biotech
Talam Biotech is a company that finds microbes and utilizes them to improve overall soil health. The microbial-based solutions are great news as these microbes already exist in the soil. It’s a solution that isn’t synthetic and can help soil health improve. This sustainable method to plant growth is great for the environment.
6. Swarm Farm
Swarm Farm is an Australian company that designs robotics to help out farmers. Autonomous technology is prevalent throughout industries worldwide and adding this style of tech to farming can make it so much simpler. By having robots accurately and precisely till, plant and treat the crops, it reduces waste and lowers the chance of crop failure. This is beneficial for farm profitability and environmental benefits.
Hydroponics is the cultivation of plants without using soil. This may seem like a bit of a cop out in a “soil innovations” blog but maybe having a lack of soil is an innovation, right? The idea behind hydroponics is that by administering the proper amount of nutrients to a plant through the water, you take out the “middleman” that is soil.
To survive, plants need sunlight and water at a minimum. While they do need nutrients that soil often provides, plants do not need soil to be the provider of these nutrients. Now some plants that have longer roots for example, will thrive better in soil so be aware of how well your plant will do out of soil before turning it hydroponic. Check out this article on hydroponics to get a better understanding and see if they are right for you.