The great nutrient collapse is real, warns agronomist

By Oliver Morrison contact

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images/Florian Gaertner
© Getty Images/Florian Gaertner

Related tags: soil health

It is time to act on soil erosion to stay in business, warns Tobias Bandel from Soil & More

Unsure about the great nutrient collapse? Tobias Bandel, managing partner of Soil & More, would urge you to look at a report last year from German insurance giant Allianz, which warned food and beverage businesses that a failure to manage natural resources would bring increasing interruption and liability risks.

“If you buy a car and you put into a garage you pay less insurance because there is less risk of hail damage,” said Bandel. “The same thing now applies to soil. If you cover your soil you have less erosion damage.”

He told an audience at the 11th European edition of the Sustainable Food Summit​ in Amsterdam that recent climate changes were causing top soils to be washed away and that organic matter was quickly being lost.

Soiled profits

“This isn’t a ‘what if’ scenario. This is happening as we speak. Everyone agrees climate change is bad for the world and mankind, but also bad for your profitability.”

A failure to preserve organic matter in soil was bad also business, he stated. “Insurers and rating agencies will downgrade your credit ratings and the value of your company because they realise that if you continue in farming with a business as usual attitude you are not dealing with the emerging risks.

“Money spent on future-proofing your farm is not anymore considered cost, decreasing your profitability and creditworthiness, but actually is considered investment that you can activate on your balance sheet.”

He added: “Who would have thought that financial market people who are normally the bad guys, who messed up the planet big time, that they actually give finally the best arguments for more sustainable farming?”

The era of cheap food is over

If we do not maintain soil organic matter, he argued, we lose the resilience of our farming systems. “We’ve already messed up the planet to some extent so the idea that we can fix a few thing and everything will be fine – that train is gone.

“It also means that cheap food for everyone is not going to happen for a while. If we continue with businesses as usual food prices will quadruple, but if we double food prices today they may only triple.”

'The good news is that we can prepare our supply systems for a changing planet'

The good news, however, was that there were feasible and practical solutions available to better deal with the challenges of a changing climate, noted Bandel, based around helping farmers to maintain and develop living soils. Soil & More offers companies impact assessments (including carbon and water foot printing) and business intelligence to create coherent strategies for risk management.

Practices that mitigate economic risks through an increase of farm-system resilience, said Bandel, included:

  • Crop rotation and diversity
  • Green manure and cover crops
  • Intercropping
  • Recycling of biomass
  • Less tillage

We need farming systems which have a strong resilience and a strong adaptive capacity to be able to deal with unforeseen events,”​ he added.

Key to his strategy, he concluded, was the business case for moving away from unsustainable agricultural practices. “We don’t need a sustainability strategy, we need a sustainable business strategy. It’s about impact instead of compliance, purpose instead of dogma.​” 

Related topics: Science, Sustainability

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