Supercharged soils could revitalise agriculture

Fabricated soil is being developed by scientists from the University of Plymouth in a bid to tackle the threat to global food security posed by degraded soils.

BRITAIN, SOUTH AFRICA (REUTERS) The Eden Project in south-west England – home to a vast indoor rainforest. Supporting all this plant-life is 83 thousand tonnes of custom-made soil.

Scientists say this fabricated soil – a mix of green waste, bark, grit and clay – could be replicated on a global scale. They're now working on the recipe for supercharged soil.

"We're trying to create a soil that performs even better than a natural soil because we can actually adapt its functions and the constituents of the soil so that could have global opportunities for food security, for flood management," said Dr Mark Fitzsimons, FABSoil project leader from the University of Plymouth.

The three-year FABSoil project aims to concoct the 'ultimate' product from recycled and waste materials. Samples are currently being tested on the roof at Plymouth University as well as in the lab. Eventually, these could be used for high-value crop production, including in developing countries.

The new recipes could also help manage Eden's soil in the future.

"The ability to be able to take a product that's a waste... means that not only are you helping to restore that area but you're also using a product that otherwise would be just going to landfill," said Dr Rachel Warmington, the science team manager of The Eden Project.

"The project with Plymouth is really going to enable those recipes to become more robust in terms of how well they're holding onto nutrients in particular. Because if you create an artificial soil you then want to be able to feed and fertilise that soil and you don't want those nutrients to be being washed away with your irrigation."

Intensive farming and chemical use has left the world's soil degraded and depleted of minerals.

Globally, the UN says just 60 years of farming remain if soil degradation continues at present levels.