Soils have been receiving a lot of attention lately, because they are the basis for our food systems, many essential environmental functions, climate change mitigation, and fuel production. Unfortunately, soil health is under threat. Large-scale use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides in conventional farming has been damaging soils and decreasing their natural ability to provide ecosystem services.

Reap the benefits

The easiest way to support soil health is simple—choose organic. Several scientific studies have shown that organic farms have higher biodiversity in soils, an important measure in soil health. For example, a recent study published in Science magazine found that organic soils had greater biological activity, greater soil stability, more biomass and higher diversity than conventionally managed soils. Another study published in Agronomy for Sustainable Development found that conservation and organic farming techniques increased the number of soil organisms when compared to conventional farming.

"A recent study found that organic soils had greater biological activity, greater soil stability, more biomass and higher diversity than conventionally managed soils."

Because of soil’s ability to sequester carbon, soil health is also important for mitigating climate change. Research reported in 2014 suggests that organically managed soils could reverse the trend of increasing CO2 in the atmosphere. The research, conducted by the Rodale Institute, takes an in-depth look at how farming systems affect greenhouse gas emission, illustrating the benefits that organic agriculture can have on climate change.

Free soil

Organic farms also have higher organic matter than conventional practices. Organic matter is important in soil because it helps to retain water, improves soil texture and permeability, regulates our climate, and supports many other healthy soil functions.

Unfortunately, synthetic fertilizer has been degrading soil organic matter for decades. To quantify these benefits, the Organic Center is currently collaborating with the National Soil Project to measure levels of organic matter in organically farmed soils in comparison with conventional soils. The project is offering free soil analyses to all organic farmers who send in soil samples.

This year, celebrate the International Year of Soils by choosing organic. It is a great way to eat a healthy diet while supporting soil health.