The British Society of Soil Science’s Annual Conference 2021, sponsored by Arcadis, considered soil health from five different perspectives, providing insight into a prominent topic across professional and academic practice.
Titled “Returning Land to Nature by Producing Just Enough from Less”, the President’s Lecture was given by renowned soil scientist, Dr Rattan Lal. From 1961 to 2020, world population increased 2.5 times from 3.2 to 7.8 billion but global cereal production increased 3.3 times from 880 Mt to 3 Bt. Simultaneously, the N fertilizer use increased by a factor 9.2, P by 5, K by 4.2 and irrigated land by 2.4. Of the 5 B ha agricultural land, 3.5 B ha is for raising animals, 70% of water withdrawn is for irrigation, and 30-35% of greenhouse gas emissions are from food production systems. Degradation of one-third of agricultural soils has increased the yield gap. While 30-50% of food produced is wasted, 700 million people are under-nourished and 2 billion are malnourished. Thus, food production and consumption systems must be designed to protect, restore, manage, and return some land to nature. The strategy is to restore soil health, improve soil organic matter, reduce food waste, adopt prudent consumption systems, produce just enough of nutrition-sensitive food, and return some land to nature.