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The call of the soil: Unveiling the rise and future trends of the global soil health industryqrcode

Feb. 28, 2024

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Feb. 28, 2024

Soil, a vital resource in nature, is the basis of life and a protector of ecological balance. It is both the core of agricultural production and the bedrock of the global food security. However, industrialization, urbanization and changing farming practices pose a serious threat to soil health, leading to soil degradation, pollution and a decrease in biodiversity. These threats not only affect crop yields and quality but also present challenges to global food security and the sustainability of the environment.

In response to these challenges, international communities and governments are emphasizing the importance of managing soil health. This attention gave rise to the soil health industry, which cover areas such as soil nutrition, remediation, disinfection, ecology and management. This industry aims to rejuvenate and preserve soil health through innovative technologies and sustainable practices.

Recognizing this importance, agricultural information platform Agropages has been dedicated to offering comprehensive insights and solutions for agricultural players. In a rapidly changing world, soil health has become a global focus. With the escalating challenges of overdevelopment, pollution and climate change influencing this precious resource, the soil health industry is on the rise, shaping the future of agriculture and the global economic transformation.

Broad prospects amid global growth trends and policy support

Although there is no unified research by data companies on the market size of the soil health sector, an in-depth analysis of its segmented areas revealed considerable prospects. 

According to research by the IMARC Group, the soil treatment market exhibited robust growth, valued at US$40.7 billion in 2022 and projected to rise to US$57.1 billion by 2028, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.5%. This growth rate not only reflects the increasing demand for soil improvement and remediation technologies, but it also indicates the innovative potential of related products and services.

Performing notably in the soil health sector is the soil testing equipment market. According to Gminsights, the value of the soil testing equipment market reached US$4.1 billion in 2023, with an expected CAGR of over 7% in the coming years. This predicted rise indicates that with the development of precision farming and environmental monitoring technologies, the demand for soil testing equipment will continue to rise, therefore, providing more accurate data support for agricultural producers and environmental scientists. 

A report by Maximize Market Research further breaks down data on the soil testing equipment market. In 2022, the sector was valued at US$13.72 billion, and it is projected to reach US$19.02 billion by 2029, growing steadily at a CAGR of 4.78%. This growth trend is primarily driven by technological innovation and the rising global focus on environmental protection and sustainable development.

Considering all available data, it is clear that the soil health sector is undergoing rapid expansion. The rising international awareness of soil quality and advancements in related technologies suggest a massive market potential for this sector. Whether soil treatment, testing or monitoring, these areas will be the focal points for investment and innovation in the future. For businesses, investing in research and development and expanding the market could secure their place within this evolving industry. For policymakers and environmental organizations, supporting research and practices within the soil health sector will contribute to a greener and more sustainable future.

In the context of globalization, policies and regulation play a significant role in the development of the soil health sector. With increasing global attention on environmental concerns, governments around the world are introducing policies aimed at protecting and restoring soil health. These policies not only guide the industry but are also a strong market signal for investors and businesses. International cooperation is vital in this process, with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) providing a framework for land degradation neutrality and remediation for all countries. Moreover, international standards, such as the ISO 14040 series, ensure the presence of internationally consistent and scientifically valid soil health assessment and remediation methods.

There is also increasing policy support at national level for soil health and protection. The European Union (EU), through its ambitious European Green Deal, offers a hopeful pathway towards improved soil protection. Actions to protect soil are included in the EU’s Soil Strategy for 2030, Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, Farm to Fork Strategy, Zero Pollution ambition, Nature Restoration Law and European Climate Law. In the United States, sustainable agricultural practices are encouraged through financial aid provided by the Farm Bill, with programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) being notable. Similarly, the Chinese government has also set specific goals for strengthening soil pollution prevention and control in its 14th Five-Year Plan, promoting the research and application of related technologies. Collectively, the implementation of these policies not only stimulates the progression of the soil health industry, but they also create a strong foundation for its sustained future growth.


An entire picture of soil health: Science and practice in five key areas 

Soil nutrition

Firstly, nitrogen fixation plays an integral role in the nitrogen cycle in nature. Microorganisms such as rhizobia and cyanobacteria, which can fix nitrogen, convert atmospheric nitrogen into a plant-usable form through an enzyme known as nitrogenase. This transformation is especially important to the symbiotic relationship between leguminous plants and rhizobia, where they depend on each other to promote growth. In farming, the application of nitrogen fixation technology can help reduce the use of chemical fertilizers, lower costs and ease environmental pressures. Researchers are broadening the application of nitrogen fixation technology via genetic modification and biotechnology, including through altering rhizobia to form nitrogen-fixing nodules on non-leguminous plants.

Secondly, microbial phosphorus solubilization technology has been used to transform insoluble phosphate in soil into a form that plants can absorb through biological or chemical processes. Microorganisms, such as certain bacteria and fungi that can dissolve phosphates, catalyze this process by producing organic acids that decompose organic matter. In the realm of agriculture, strategies such as the sensible application of phosphorous fertilizers, the planting of green manure crops, and the use of organic fertilizers and microbial formulations, can enhance the efficacy of soil phosphorus. Ostara’s CrystalGreen® technology is an example of a product that turns phosphorus in wastewater into plant fertilizer, thereby, promoting plant growth and mitigating environmental pollution.

Potassium solubilization technology aims to improve the availability of potassium in the soil. Potassium is an essential nutrient for plant growth, and it is crucial for photosynthesis and stress resistance. Potassium solubilizing microorganisms lower soil pH by secreting organic acids, dissolving potassium minerals. Chemical potassium solubilization involves the use of chemical reagents to react with potassium minerals, while physical potassium solubilization disrupts mineral structures through physical means. The type of potassium solubilization method used practical applications must consider soil conditions and crop requirements.

Soil remediation 

Soil acidification is a process where the pH level of the soil drops, leading to increased acidity. This phenomenon is closely linked to human activities, including the excessive usage of chemical fertilizers, the impact of acid rain, deforestation and soil erosion. These factors contribute to an overload of sulfates and chlorides in the soil, alongside the deposition of sulfuric acid and nitric acid from acid rain, which collectively cause a decline in soil pH. Soil ecology is also influenced by natural factors, such as rainwash and the decomposition of organic matter in the soil, which can similarly affect acidity and alkalinity.

The direct effects of soil acidification include soil structure damage, reduced amount of beneficial microorganisms, damaged plant roots and elevated heavy metal toxicity. These effects ultimately lead to hindered crop growth, reduced yields and even ecological imbalance. To address this problem, scientists and agricultural experts have proposed various remediation technologies. For instance, physical remediation involves applying lime to neutralize acidic substances in the soil and raise the pH value. Chemical remediation includes utilizing substances, such as calcium sulfate and magnesium sulfate, to manage soil acidity. Biological remediation leverages the metabolic activities of certain microorganisms and plants to enhance the soil environment, which could involve planting acid-resistant plants or introducing microbial agents.

Soil alkalinization, like soil acidification, is also caused by human activity and natural factors that lead to a rise in soil pH value. Remediation strategies, such as those used in soil acidification, include physical, chemical and biological methods to adjust soil acidity or alkalinity and restore soil health.

Soil heavy metal pollution involves the excessive accumulation of elements, such as lead (Pb), cadmium (Cd), mercury (Hg), chromium (Cr) and arsenic (As), in the soil. These elements exist in trace amounts in nature, but their concentration in the soil has significantly increased due to industrial emissions, mining activities, urban waste landfills and the use of agricultural fertilizers. Soil heavy metal pollution not only damages the soil ecosystem, it could also enter the human body through the food chain, posing a threat to human health.

The causes of pollution include wastewater, exhaust gases, waste residues produced by industrial activities, pesticides, chemical fertilizers and sludge fertilizer containing heavy metals used in agricultural practices, infiltration of construction waste and household garbage in urban expansion, and geological activities in natural processes. These pollutants have detrimental effects on plant growth, ecosystems and human health. Remediation technologies include physical remediation, such as soil replacement, solidification/stabilization, chemical remediation using chelating agents, and biological remediation using microorganisms, plants or their metabolites.


Soil disinfection

The sustainable development of agriculture is an important issue facing the world, where controlling pesticide residues, diseases and pests are among the priorities. Pesticide residues are remnants left in crops, soil and the environment after the use of chemical pesticides in agricultural production. These residues pose a potential threat to human health and the ecological environment. As a result, soil disinfection technology has become a vital tool in modern agriculture.

The development and practical application of soil disinfection technology play a key role in breaking down pesticide residues in the soil. Specific strains of microorganisms can secret enzymes that degrade pesticides into substances that are harmless or have low toxicity. For example, certain types of bacteria and fungi can effectively break down organophosphorous and carbamate pesticides. Moreover, enhancing soil structure and raising organic matter content can boost the soil’s ability to naturally cleanse itself, which in turn, can slow down the spread and biological effects of pesticide residues.

Beyond addressing the problem of pesticide residues, equally crucial is the prevention and control of crop diseases and pests. Implementing good preventive measures and controls at the early stages of production can minimize the need for pesticide use at later stages. It is crucial to draft scientifically-based strategies for preventing and controlling pests and diseases, as well as considering their patterns of occurrence and existing ecological conditions. Furthermore, sustaining soil health through appropriate fertilization practices, enhancing soil structure and increasing organic matter content in the soil can augment the natural resilience of crops. 

Soil ecology

Soil ecological management emphasizes the importance of both introducing exogenous microbial communities and rejuvenating the original microbial community.

In modern agricultural practice, the introduction of exogenous microbial communities has become a key biotechnology method for improving soil health and increasing crop yields. This method aims to enhance soil microbial diversity, promote plant growth, improve soil fertility and suppress the activity of pathogenic microorganisms by introducing specific microbial strains. The beneficial microorganisms include nitrogen-fixing bacteria, phosphate-solubilizing bacteria, potassium-solubilizing bacteria and antagonistic bacteria, with each contributing positively to the soil environment through their distinctive biological processes. For example, antagonistic bacteria can reduce crop diseases by inhibiting or eliminating pathogenic microorganisms, therefore, reducing the use of chemical pesticides and protecting the environment and human health.

However, the introduction of exogenous microorganisms must consider the activity, adaptability and stability of microorganisms, as well as evaluate soil conditions, to ensure the survival and reproduction of microorganisms in the soil. In addition to introducing microorganisms directly, the use of biostimulants is also an effective way of activating soil microbial communities. These stimulants, such as microbial fermentation products, can activate indigenous microbial communities in the soil and enhance their activity.

In combination with the above-mentioned techniques, a series of additional measures are often taken to further enhance the vitality of soil microbial communities. Firstly, the introduction of organic matter into the soil provides a rich food source for soil microorganisms. The use of organic fertilizers, green manure and compost can also spur microbial growth and raise diversity. Secondly, reducing the use of chemical pesticides and adopting biological control and physical control methods can help protect and restore the natural balance of soil microorganisms. Related strategies, such as crop rotation and diversified planting, can mitigate the negative effects of monoculture on soil microbial communities, in turn raising microbial diversity. Prudent soil management practices, such as conservation tillage and minimum tillage, combined with the maintenance of optimal levels of soil moisture and pH, are also key for maintaining an active microbial community in the soil.


Soil management

Soil testing and monitoring play a crucial role in the contemporary sphere of modern agriculture and environmental protection. They not only establish a scientific foundation for agricultural production, but they also aid the sustainable utilization of land resources.

Soil testing is a comprehensive technique that reveals the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of the soil by analyzing samples. These characteristics include soil fertility, pollution levels, acidity, organic matter content and microbial activity, which are instrumental in directing agricultural production, environmental protection and sustainable development. By measuring primary nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, as well as trace elements in the soil, fertility status can be evaluated, helping in drafting an appropriate fertilization plan, increasing crop yields and avoiding environmental pollution. At the same time, the identification and quantification of heavy metals, organic pollutants and pathogens in the soil are crucial to preventing soil pollution, protecting groundwater resources and maintaining ecological balance.

Soil acidity and alkalinity directly affect plant growth and soil microbial activity. Measuring pH values can help gauge the soil’s acid-base balance, providing a scientific foundation for soil improvement and crop planting. Soil organic matter is a crucial indicator of soil fertility, affecting both soil structure and water retention capacity. Soil moisture conditions are vital to crop growth and irrigation management. Detecting these parameters can help optimize farming practices and improve resource utilization efficiency. Additionally, soil microorganisms play a pivotal role in maintaining soil health and boosting plant growth. Analyzing the structure and functionality of soil microbial communities can assist in understanding the health status of a soil ecosystem.

Soil testing typically involves the stages of sampling, laboratory analysis and interpreting results. During sampling, the soil’s representativeness and depth are key considerations. Laboratory analysis utilizes chemical and biological technologies, such as spectroscopic analysis and chromatographic analysis. Interpreting results require professional knowledge to translate data into practical agricultural management recommendations.

Soil monitoring is a key part of ensuring soil health and the sustainability of agricultural production, and involves the regular evaluation and monitoring of soil quality, to detect changes in the soil, prevent and reverse soil degradation and provide scientific decision-making support for agricultural production. Monitoring the physical characteristics of the soil, such as texture, structure, density and permeability, can offer insights into the soil’s aptitude for cultivation and the need for enhancements. Furthermore, the chemical characteristics of the soil, including its pH, nutrient content, organic matter and levels of heavy metals and organic pollutants, offer crucial indicators to guide suitable fertilization and soil improvement efforts. Tracking the diversity and vitality of soil microorganisms can shed light on the biological activity and overall ecological balance of the soil, forming the foundation for ecological agriculture and biological soil remediation efforts. By creating a database of soil quality and analyzing changes over time, a scientific basis can be established for land management policies and agricultural practices. With the development of the Internet of Things and remote sensing technology, real-time soil monitoring is achievable. Soil sensors and drones can gather current data on soil moisture and temperature and salt content, offering immediate information for precision irrigation and crop management.

Soil testing and monitoring have, therefore, become fundamental to the success of modern agriculture and environmental protection. Through the combined use of traditional and modern technologies, we can manage soil resources more effectively, increase agricultural production efficiency, protect and improve the soil environment, and achieve sustainable agriculture. Regular soil testing and monitoring can not only detect and solve soil problems in a timely manner, but they also provide accurate scientific guidance for agricultural production, promote ecological balance, and safeguard the future of humans and the Earth.

Soil nutrition, remediation, disinfection, ecology and management are key to the sustainable development of modern agriculture. Through technological innovation and management practices, soil fertility can be effectively improved, crop health can be ensured, and the green development of agricultural production can be achieved. Many agricultural technology companies around the world are developing and promoting related technologies and products, as well as providing support for farmers and jointly promoting the sustainable development of agriculture.

Policy, technology and cooperation: The three pillars of the soil health industry

Based on in-depth discussions on the landscape of the soil health industry, we can draw a clear conclusion. Soil health is not only the cornerstone of sustainable agricultural development but is also key to global ecological balance and human well-being. The evolution of this industry is intrinsically linked to the efficiency and quality of agricultural production, the integrity of the ecosystem and the future of the Earth. With advancements in technology, the guidance of policies, and increasing farmers’ awareness, the soil health industry is realizing its full potential and value.

Policymakers must continue to strengthen and improve relevant policies to create a stable policy environment for the soil health industry, including by adopting stricter soil protection regulations, providing financial incentives and tax benefits, and supporting research and technological innovations related to soil health. At the same time, policymakers should also promote international cooperation and establish unified soil health standards, as part of the joint international efforts to address the challenge of soil degradation.

Businesses must actively embrace technological innovation, invest in research and development, and develop more efficient and environmentally-friendly soil remediation and improvement products. They should also prioritize sustainability, incorporate soil health management into their corporate strategies, and increase competitiveness through green production practices. Moreover, businesses should strengthen their cooperation with governments, research institutions and non-governmental organizations in jointly promoting the development of the soil health industry.

Farmers must improve their understanding of the importance of soil health and actively participate in soil protection initiatives, as well as contribute to the improvement of soil health by adopting organic farming practices and reducing the use of fertilizers and pesticides. At the same time, they should also pay attention to the implementation of related policies and regulations and promote policies to better serve soil health through feedback and public participation.

In conclusion, the development of the soil health industry requires the collaborative efforts of policymakers, businesses and farmers. Through policy guidance, technological innovation, market-driven initiatives and public participation, we can create a healthier and more sustainable soil ecosystem, which will not only leave a more livable earth for future generations but we will also generate a strong impetus for the green transformation of the global economy. Let us work together to establish a thriving, healthy and sustainable soil health industry.

This article will be published in AgroPages' upcoming 'Annual Review 2023' magazine.

Click to read/download it soon.

 Annual Review 2023

Please contact Grace Yuan (grace@agropages.com) for any matter over the magazine and promotion cooperation in AgroPages.

Source: AgroNews


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