Q: i recently obtained into a conversation v someone who declared soils room a renewable resource because the nutrients in them deserve to be replaced with fertilizers. However I’ve heard that soil bring away a really lengthy time come form, so that to me provides it non-renewable. What’s your opinion?

A: The idea that soil is renewable because nutrients deserve to be replaced is very limited in scope, just addressing crop production. This perspective does not think about how floor forms, or that it’s much an ext than just a medium for growing plants.

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However, i am not a fan of the renewable/non-renewable dichotomous category system. I prefer another category for soil: slowly-renewable. Yet that comes through caveats concerned the determinants of floor formation: climate, organisms, relief, parental material, and time.


Whether soil is renewable or non-renewable is really an ext a concern of how long the takes for floor to rebuild and recover ~ a disturbance, such as the erosion pictured right here in the main Mexican Highlands. Photo: CIMMYT

In the renewable/non-renewable discussion, time should be defined. Room we talking about a growing-season (important native a nutrient perspective), lifetime, centuries, millennia?

I recognize of no soil scientist that would agree the soil is renewable simply because nutrients have the right to be replaced. I doubt couple of would even consider soil renewable in ~ a lifetime, despite under appropriate conditions, much recovery can occur.

So, the concern becomes: just how long does that take because that a floor to recuperate from erosion, permanent tillage, compaction, acidification, salinization, etc.?

Climate, organisms

A soil’s capability to recoup depends ~ above the climate; soils in humid regions have the potential to rebound more quickly than those in semiarid and also arid regions. Tree grow and also die, biology decompose the tree roots and also residues, and in this way organic matter in the soil increases. In dried regions, over there is little water to enable plant growth, so everything happens much more slowly.


Another element is relief. Soils on steady landscapes—uplands or lowlands, gently sloping come level—will be an ext likely to recoup than soils ~ above slopes. Water running downslope erodes soil and also deposits it at the bottom that the hill, or tote the sediments into streams or rivers and also degrades water quality. Also in natural, undisturbed landscapes, the least developed soils take place on slopes.

Parent material

This is the ingredient in which a soil forms. Coarser products (sands) often tend to have much more rapid soil advance than finer products (clays and silts). If the soil is forming over bedrock, the procedure is also slower. If erosion removed the soil to disclose the bedrock, the area might not it is in renewable because that millennia.

When the rate of soil development exceeds the rate of degradation, soils are renewable. In areas where degradation exceeds formation, soils are non-renewable (at least until the next climate shift).

Some types of degradation can be regulated to keep productivity. Other kinds of damages may be irreversible. For example, acidification is usual in humid regions or old soils, yet is often managed with the enhancement of floor limestone commodities to advanced the pH for crop production.

Salinization is the procedure of salts accumulating in a soil. It’s often related to irrigation, but sometimes occurs in lands nearby to rivers in dried regions. As soon as soil i do not care salinized, the just thing that will leach the salts out of the floor profile to make it fertile again is great quality water. When that is not accessible from an aquifer or a river (often since dams and reservoirs manage floods so the water no much longer covers the floodplain), the just other possible source is precipitation.

But precipitation is regularly not plentiful in countless regions and also water is not renewable in numerous places. Numerous arid and semiarid areas experience restricted precipitation and also river flow, degraded surface ar water quality, among other factors. Numerous of this regions instead use water from deep, underground aquifers with small or no recharge. This “fossil” water was stored at the time of the last ice cream age. When the aquifers space depleted faster than they space recharged, water is no renewable therefore can’t be offered to renew soil.

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The bottom line: All organic resources are valuable, and also should be managed well come insure they will be available to future generations.

–Answered through Clay Robinson, a.k.a., Dr. Dirt

This post was reprinted v permission from the Soils issue blog. Have actually a inquiry for Soils Matter? Email them at