A new report by the Sustainable Food Trust (SFT) to mark World Soil Day, said soil degradation cost up to £7 trillion a year and posed a ‘grave long-term’ threat to the nation.
“It reduces the ability of farmland to produce food at a time when more will be demanded of soils than ever before due to population increase and climate change,” the report said.
“More than 95 per cent of the food we eat depends on soil, but half of all farmland soils worldwide are already degraded, largely due to inappropriate farming methods.”
SFT policy director Richard Young said “Few people think about soil when they do their shopping, in part because most root vegetables have all the soil washed off them these days, but the reality is that for every trolley of food we wheel back to our cars we are tipping three trolleys full of the same weight of soil into the river to be washed away.
“With continuing population growth and the relentless march of climate change, we need soils to produce higher yields in the years to come, yet they are in a more depleted state than at any time in human history.
“Urgent action is now needed to develop common solutions which address climate change and soil degradation simultaneously.”
The SFT said 24 billion tonnes of soil is irrevocably lost to the world’s oceans due to wind and water erosion.
However, it said the problem could be even worse than the figures suggest.
The report added: “In addition to the loss of soil itself, much of the soil that remains in the fields is losing organic matter. Organic matter is largely made up of carbon and nitrogen and these elements are being lost from soils as the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, which increase global warming.
“Soils with low organic matter levels lack the ability to produce maximum crop yields, to retain moisture during dry times, to produce crops that resist pests and diseases or stand up to the mechanical damage caused by heavy rain, flooding and heavy farm machinery.”