Turning dirt into paydirt

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Robert Walker, Alltech Crop Science 

Today more than 800 million people face hunger and malnutrition. As the population grows, food production will have to increase by approximately 60 percent by 2050. How do we feed, fuel and support the growing world population? 

Currently 33 percent of world soils are under severe pressure from human activities that degrade and sometimes eliminate essential soil functions. At Crop Science: Growing the Revolution symposium, Robert Walker, general manager of Alltech Crop Science, addressed the importance of soil.

“It takes 2,000 years for 10 centimetres of topsoil to form, and there are only 100 harvests left in UK soils,” said Walker, noting that a recent trial carried out in the UK found that city soils had 33 percent more carbon and 25 percent more nitrogen than their agriculture counterparts. Yet, he said, the agricultural soils produce more food.

The United Nations General Assembly declared 2015 the International Year of Soils, and Alltech continues to highlight its importance in the food chain. Soil has a lot more to offer than just food production – soil microbes must be explored.

“We have only identified 2 percent of all microbes in the soil. We need to be looking at the other 98 percent,” added Walker, underscoring that it has been 30 years since the last antibiotic was brought to market. Recently scientists found 25 new antibiotics in the soil so the potential is out there.

“Microbes in soil make the plant more resistant to pathogens. By adding microbes to the soil, it can add a lot of money to your yield. It's a business that is going to double in value,” Walker said.

Crop science has huge growth potential. We need to ask ourselves why big companies like Syngenta, Monsanto and Bayer Crop Science are acquiring interests in or entering the bio market. There is so much more to soil than meets the eye.