If you went to the bank every week and withdrew funds from your account, but never added to your account, then you would eventually be bankrupt. And that is what we have done to our soils. We add nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to the soil in commercial agriculture. We ignore the need for dozens of other minerals in the human body.
There are 118 elements on the periodic table. These are the building blocks of the planet earth. 90 of those elements are found in the ocean. 65 of those elements are found in the human body. 15 of those elements are considered essential in human nutrition. But only three of them are added to the soil. You do the math. Western civilization is clinically deficient in many minerals because of our inappropriate farming techniques.
Soil is the foundation of farming and food production. It physically supports crops and is the medium through which crops receive nutrition and hydration. To ensure that crops continue to get the required nutrients, soil must be continuously fertilized. However, when depletion of minerals in soil is not addressed, it becomes increasingly difficult for crops to thrive, and if they do, they will be deficient of the nutrients and minerals traditionally associated with them. This is the condition of most of the soil under commercial farming today. But how did we get to this point, and what can be done to rectify the situation?
Mineral Deficiencies. What Is Your Soil Missing?
Studies have documented depletion of different minerals in soil. One such study compared mineral content differences in fruits and vegetables between 1940 and 1991:
Percent Change in average mineral content between 1940 and 1991
In another study by Dr. August Dunning, a scientist at Eco Organics it was found that one apple contained 4.3 mg of iron in 1950, and 0.18 mg in 1998. This means that in 1998, you would need to eat 25 more apples to get the same amount of iron contained in one apple in 1950.
In addition, data presented at the 1992 Rio Summit, showed that mineral levels in farmed soils had depleted by 85 percent in North America, 76 percent in Asia, and 72 percent in Europe. Similar figures can be expected in the rest of the world.
How Commercial Farming Robs Soil of Minerals
As Franklin D. Roosevelt said, by destroying our soil, we destroy ourselves. This truth is now haunting us as commercial agriculture has been given free reign for too long to do what serves its commercial interests. Of course there is nothing wrong with minding your commercial interests, but it is unacceptable to do this at the expense of others, including the consumers of your products.
But how does commercial farming rob the soil of its minerals?
This happens in a number of ways which include:
Commercial farming focuses on maximizing production from the soil. To achieve this, commercial farmers over plow the soil; making it more liable to erosion by wind and water. According to Grace Communications Foundation; in the US, an average of 7 tons per acre of cropland soil is lost through erosion every year. It is estimated that globally, 30 percent of arable land has been lost through erosion over the last five decades. Erosion takes away the soil, nutrients, minerals, and organic material contained in it. It is worth to note that top soil contains the bulk of the nutrients compared to the soil underneath which remains after erosion.
Removal of Organic Material
Undisturbed land such as forests is rich in minerals and other nutrients. The reason for this is that when plants grow, they get minerals and other nutrients from the soil, and when they shed organic materials or they die, the nutrients get back into the soil after plant breakdown. This cycle has been going on through the years and is the reason virgin land is so fertile. By contrast, land under commercial farming is continuously robbed of minerals and other nutrients when crops are harvested for the market or as feed for animals. And because the amount of nutrients removed is not returned through fertilization, farmed land steadily loses its capacity to support healthy crops.
It is also worth noting that traditional farming involved fertilizing the soil using farmyard and animal manure. This practice returned a good portion of the nutrients removed through harvesting and feeding animals back into the soil.
However, commercial farming is specialized and involves growing the same type of crops for many years, while commercial animal production involves raising factory-style animals. These animals produce large amounts of manure. However, commercial farmers consider transportation and application of manure to be more expensive than using synthetic fertilizers. And while commercial fertilizers may contain nutrients to maximize production of specific crops, they don’t replenish the soils adequately for the long term.
While irrigation helps to increase crop yield, it can cause mineral depletion by leaching. This is more likely to happen when irrigation is done by methods that involve use of large amounts of water over a short period. The leached minerals end up in waterways and ultimately in lakes and oceans where they interfere with life in the waters.
To carry out commercial farming, large tracts of land are required. This may mean that forests and pasturelands are cleared to make way for commercial crops. When this happens, forests and pastures are cut down, removed and sometimes burned. The resultant soil is then put through use and overuse without replenishment of the lost minerals and nutrients.
Repercussions of Demineralization of Soil
Various studies published by different organizations, among them NIH, CDC, and the American Heart Association, suggest that increase in diseases like cancer, asthma, tinnitus, bone deformities and cardiovascular conditions is partly due to demineralization and nutrient depletion of the soil. Research also shows that a few hundred years ago, our ancestors would die from injury or infections but not degenerative or non-communicable diseases.
But the effect of the great mineral robbery is not limited to the crop deficiency of the specific minerals to the crops, and subsequently the consumer. Demineralization and the application of synthetic fertilizers affect soil pH. This interferes with the microorganisms in soil and ultimately the soil structure and its ability to support crops and other plants effectively.
In addition, application of synthetic fertilizers like ammonium nitrate renders soil impotent to some extent by interfering with the bioavailability of some minerals such as calcium. Therefore, while yields may initially become abundant, in the long term, the soil becomes less effective in supporting healthy growth of plants.
What Should Be Done To Recover Depleted Minerals?
Remineralization is the ultimate solution to the problem. To achieve this, commercial farmers will need to make major changes in their farming methods. This includes reducing their dependence on man made fertilizers and instead fertilizing soil with compost and animal manure.
But it is a big challenge for commercial farmers to carry out remineralization without action by policymakers. For this reason consumers need to lobby their governments to take action. Meanwhile, consumers need to play their part by opting for organically farmed foods so that they create a growing demand for organic crops. This will reduce demand for conventionally farmed foods and ultimately force commercial farmers to change their farming methods.