Healthy soil

“agricultural practices to maintain healthy soil are clearly an important target for policymakers. Looking after our soils ultimately means looking after ourselves.

So conclude Ee Ling Ng and Deli Chen from the University of Melbourne in an essay on how healthy soils make for a healthy life 

They are right of course.

Agricultural practices do affect the health of soils, either detrimentally or, with some thought and care, sustainably. And if we want to eat healthily, then we need more than a few acai berries and gluten free pasta oxymoron. Food has to come from plants grown in soils able to exchange the nutrients that make food both nutritious and healthy. And the same applies to livestock.

Ask any soil scientist or soil ecologist and they would readily confirm this reality. Even the agronomists would concede that plants can’t do it all without soil.

So we should be looking after our soils.

Only here are a couple of things.

Firstly soil is definitively not a target for policy makers. Whether it’s politics or policy, issues around soil are many steps removed from the day to day reality of our democratic system.

Addressing the issues that degrade soil would mess with the economics and freedoms of agriculture and both are too sensitive for your average parliamentarian. It’s a brave member who stands in the chamber and says that if nearly half the soil in the country is degraded, then our agricultural systems need to change. Even if they spin the idea that any degradation isn’t the fault of today’s producers.

Equally, few members can risk questions about the way agri-business operates for the same reasons of not rocking the economic boat.

Secondly, even if a politician was brave enough and tried to develop a policy around soils she would be hard pressed to find policy people within government agencies who could help her.

Agencies have technical expertise certainly. They even have a few soils people here and there. But the policy people that draft the laws are rarely subject matter experts. Somehow policy and technical expertise have been separated within agencies and for a slippery subject like soil health you need all the expertise in the room, almost all the time. Unfortunately, this is not how it’s done.

Instead, it is left to academics and the occasional business blogger to show the target.

We — that is the producers, consumers, and controllers of food supply systems — should have soil health front and centre at all times. Unhealthy soil will give us unhealthy people or worse.

But for now it’s not even on the radar.

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