Innovations In UK Soil Science Initiatives Will Grow The Solutions To Our Global Food Security

Learning Centre > Innovations In UK Soil Science Initiatives Will Grow The Solutions To Our Global Food Security

A report published by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) says that innovative research in soil science will be fundamental in overcoming the growing threat of global fo

A report published by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) says that innovative research in soil science will be fundamental in overcoming the growing threat of global foA report published by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) says that innovative research in soil science will be fundamental in overcoming the growing threat of global fo

A report published by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) says that innovative research in soil science will be fundamental in overcoming the growing threat of global food and fuel crop shortages. As the world's population continues to increase, there will be more demand for food and fuel crops. However, the amount of land available for farming is limited, so it is essential to use soil science to improve crop yields. For example, by using precision farming techniques, farmers can select the best land areas to grow crops on, and they can also use data to plan their planting and harvesting activities. In addition, scientists can develop crops that are resistant to pests and diseases by using genetic engineering. As a result, innovative research in soil science will be essential in meeting the demands of the world's population.

One of the significant global challenges of the 21st century is food security. The ever-growing world population has limited resources to feed all of its people. In 1960, one hectare of land was enough to feed two people. But by 2050, we will require the same amount of land to feed six people. This problem is only compounded because the world's resources are not evenly distributed. Some countries have plenty of land and resources, while others struggle to get by. Something needs to be done to address this issue. But what? One idea is to increase agricultural production through better technology and farming practices. But this will only go so far. We also need to address the root causes of poverty and inequality. Only then can we hope to achieve food security for all.

There is no doubt that meeting the demands of our increasingly crowded planet is a significant challenge. With growing populations and increasing levels of consumerism, it can be challenging to find enough food, fuel, and resources to support everyone. But one possible solution lies right beneath our feet. Soils play a critical role in feeding the world's population by providing space for vital crops, and through the nutrients they contain. And as recent extreme weather events have shown, soils also play an essential role in maintaining the quality and sustainability of our food. For example, heavy rainfall can leach essential nutrients out of the earth and into waterways, where they damage ecosystems, so restoring degraded and damaged soils is increasingly critical in ensuring a more sustainable food supply for all. So while meeting the demands of the future may seem daunting, perhaps the answer is right underneath our feet: working to protect and sustain our soils maybe what we need to ensure that we can feed everyone now and in years to come.

Securing soils for long-term farming - a science-based plan produced by the Royal Society of Chemistry, the University of Sheffield, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Environmental Sustainability Knowledge Transfer Network (ESKTN) - emphasises several measures that need to be taken to ensure that soil research in the United Kingdom is at the forefront of technological advances in this area. 

The report results from a research strategy workshop that gathered input from academics, national research centres, and business and government representatives. The meeting was part of a NERC-funded soil study project organised by the University of Sheffield and the University of Leeds and Bristol.

Professor Steve Banwart of the University of Sheffield, who co-authored the report, said: "Our research consortium has shown how plants and soil fungi work together to direct the solar energy captured by photosynthesis into the root zone to target and extract specific nutrients from soil minerals. 

"Advances like this are paving the way for precision agriculture, where crops and soil are managed together to gain a much more targeted and efficient uptake of nutrients. It's exactly the type of science that the UK can utilise for new agricultural technology that increases productivity and reduces the demand for energy and chemical inputs to fields."

The UK has a solid worldwide reputation in soil science and an unrivalled collection of soil data, making it well-positioned to help the development of new soil technology. The United Kingdom is highly regarded in soil science research and development and production for a number of international agricultural technology firms.

Agriculture, particularly agricultural research, was one of eight areas in which the Chancellor recognised the United Kingdom as a global leader during his address to the Royal Society in November. The RSC's study makes several important recommendations to support and promote UK soil research, according to the Chancellor's goal.

To keep up with the growing demand for food production, we must invest in advanced soil science techniques. The report calls for long-term, sustained funding in this area and recommends four key priority areas that offer great potential for interdisciplinary research. These include biosignalling and sensors for monitoring plant conditions with increased precision, closed-loop systems for recovering key nutrients such as phosphorus from waste streams, integrated computational models of plant-soil-water interactions to develop new crop technologies, and innovative approaches to increasing the efficiency of nutrient and water use. By optimising these cutting-edge techniques, we can help ensure the continued vitality of our agricultural sector and reduce our impact on precious natural resources. Thus, it is clear that a robust investment in modern soil science is not only a worthy goal – it is an urgent necessity. 

The study also warns against future issues that UK soil science may encounter.

We are facing a potential crisis in the soil science research community in the UK. Many of the current leaders in the field are nearing retirement age, and there is a lack of younger scientists coming up through the ranks to replace them. This shortage in the skills pipeline could have a significant economic effect, with the possibility that the UK agricultural sector will lose out on opportunities for innovative products and services with the potential to generate revenue in the international market. To avoid this situation, we must invest in training and education programmes to encourage more young people to enter the field of soil science. With the proper support, we can ensure that the UK remains at the forefront of this vital area of research.

Dr Mindy Dulai, RSC Programme Manager for Environmental Science, said: "Soil science is fundamental to the global food supply, sustaining the entire food and agriculture sector from farm to fork.

"But it is a difficult discipline and - as the government identified in their 2011 The Future of Food and Farming report - it tends to be neglected with respect to research.

"We need to face this head-on in the UK to make soil science one of our national strengths."

Dr Dulai added: "To achieve this, we need more broadly-educated graduate researchers and professionals to lead soil science and agricultural technology innovations.

"We need to improve the recognition and reputation of soil security and promote global agricultural sustainability as a career specialism for highly-talented science students in further and higher education."

The world's industrial-agricultural sector needs to do better. To meet the needs of a growing population, we need to improve interdisciplinary working between the agricultural industry, higher education institutions, environmental NGOs and government. We also need to improve communication and collaboration across the disciplines of chemistry, biology, physics and engineering. By doing so, we can develop new technologies and practices that will help us to increase food production while minimising environmental impact. Only by working together can we hope to feed the world sustainably.

Dr Murray Gardner, NERC's Knowledge & Innovation Manager, said, "With the growing concern for the state of the UK soils for agriculture, this comprehensive report adds to a growing body of evidence calling for investment in soil sciences. NERC will continue to work with the research community and appropriate stakeholders to consider how best to address the issues and opportunities raised in this report."

Dr Anne Miller, Associate Director at the ESKTN, said: "The ESKTN has been working extensively with the research and business communities to promote wider recognition of the importance of healthy soils as a vital supporting service for human well-being. So we are very pleased that this authoritative report identifies concrete actions and projects for funders to take forward and glad to have worked in such an effective partnership with the RSC, NERC and the University of Sheffield and its consortium partners to deliver this."

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