The cover story “Regenerating Degraded Dirt” (C&EN, March 7, page 40) was very interesting and informative. In some cases, the article may have been about dirt, but in large part, it was about soil.
The one thing farmers all over the world can do is increase the organic matter going into their soil. The soil, agriculture, food production, and population of Earth all benefit from this addition no matter the form of the organic matter.
Plant and animal matter and mixtures of the two, both composted and uncomposted, can be added to soil whether or not a farmer’s farm becomes organic. Cover and green manure crops, when incorporated into soil without harvesting, also increase soil’s organic matter content. The exception is that involving human waste and uncomposted organic animal matter may lead to the spread of disease and is not recommended.
This is true organic matter, but it is also dream organic matter. In reality, working with undecomposed organic matter increases all agricultural, farm, food, and gardening workloads, primarily in getting and keeping organic matter in and on the field. Properly composted organic matter, with or without worms, overcomes many of these obstacles.
Initial benefits from increased organic matter in soil come from increases in water-holding capacity, cation-exchange capacity, and soil looseness, all of which will lead to increased agricultural production.