The Regenerative Soil-Water-Vegetation Cycle
Together in a natural system, soil, water and vegetation - supported by a constant flow of solar energy - provide a regenerative cycle.
Improving landscape management practices can help to restore these natural systems, through which we can maximise water use efficiency, improve soil health, nutrient cycling and biodiversity of vegetation.
In simple terms, a properly structured soil, with good levels of soil organic carbon, allows greater infiltration and retention of rainfall. Every gram of carbon in the soil can retain up to eight grams of water. By improving soil structure – particularly soil carbon levels – through increasing organic matter in the soil, we can more effectively capture and retain any rain that falls, making it available to plants for longer.
Increased moisture in the soil helps to maintain a healthy biodiversity of vegetative ground cover. This in turn produces more organic matter (roots, leaf litter, etc.) which break down and continue to improve the soil structure, and enhance the ability to capture water. A healthy soil biology, comprising millions of micro-organisms, is also essential in this cycle to help convert and recycle nutrients.
If properly supported, this regenerative cycle can continue to sustain and improve the natural resource base, and therefore landscape resilience and productivity – and enable us to support ongoing agricultural food and fibre production.
It is because of this ability to continually improve the natural resource base that Soils for Life use the term ‘regenerative’ landscape management, rather than just ‘sustainable’ landscape management.
Supporting natural cycles...
Shane and Shan Joyce of Dukes Plain in Queensland provide an excellent example of the continuous improvement that can be achieved by supporting natural cycles. By controlling pasture grazing and recovery time and allowing natural revegetation of the brigalow native to their area, soil carbon has increased, water holding has increased – and production and profits have increased.
Importantly, the Joyces trialled a range of different practices over the years, until they settled on what worked best for them. As Shane says, “select the tiles that you want, and make your own mosaic”.
Essential ecosystem services…
In addition to enabling us to produce food and fibre, healthy soils and natural cycles underlie the production of essential ecosystem services.
The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) Year Book 2012 (www.unep.org/yearbook/2012) describes these services as:
- Support Services: nutrient cycling, water release and retention, soil formation, habitat for biodiversity, exchange of gases with the atmosphere, degradation of complex materials
- Regulation Services: carbon sequestration, greenhouse gas emissions, water purification, natural attenuation of pollutants
- Provision Services: food and fibre production, water availability, platform for construction
- Cultural Services: protection of archaeological remains, outdoor recreational pursuits, landscapes, supporting habitats
When was the last time you really thought about what provides all those services?
What are you doing to support their continuation?
Stay tuned next time, for the first in our series of posts focusing on soil…
The Soils for Life Team