The Basics of Soil Fertility

Shaping our relationship to the soil

Resource explained

The enhancement of soil fertility was crucial to the pioneers of organic farming, but the conservation of fertile soil is not always given enough attention and organic farming depends on good natural soil fertility. Exhausted and damaged soils cannot offer the desired performance. The cultivation of soil fertility requires careful management. This booklet, which results from the Organic Knowledge Network Arable project funded by the Horizon 2020 programme of the European Union, offers a view on soil fertility from different angles. It deliberately avoids offering universal ‘instructions’, but rather seeks to provide information to stimulate new thinking about a sustainable relationship to the soil. The booklet was produced by FiBL and the English version was adapted by the ORC to include case studies and examples in a UK context.

Findings & recommendations

The booklet is divided into information on principles of soil fertility, observations to help you establish levels of soil fertility, practical ways of preserving and improving soil fertility, and thoughts on the future of soil culture. Some issues surrounding organic farming systems are explored including; organic rotations that promote organic matter rather than exploit it, the challenge of soil fatigue, problems of phosphorus deficiency, and managing soil compaction and soil moisture – “the courage of waiting is one way to avoid mistakes.” The potential for gentle soil cultivation is examined using farmer Richard Gantlett as a case study demonstrating promoting a living soil using reduced tillage. The booklet concludes with a vision of the organic soil culture of the future:

  1. More attention paid to overall yields instead of individual yields
  2. Ensuring farming techniques are compatible with living conditions for valuable soil organisms
  3. Further crop varieties
  4. Using nature-appropriate machinery
  5. A soil culture inextricably linked with education and culture
  6. Sustainability through renewable resources

The advancement of soil management can not, the authors say, be achieved by tighter requirements in guidelines, it needs the freedom and development of the individual, and exchange of ideas and help amongst each other.

Summary provided by:

Phil Sumption

Edited by:

Janie Caldbeck

Associated Agricology Partner Organisation(s):

Related articles

Richard Gantlett

Richard farms beef cattle and cereals biodynamically at Yatesbury House Farm, on the Wiltshire downs near Avebury. In a series of videos, he describes his...

Iain Tolhurst (Tolly)

​Tolhurst Organic is located on the Hardwick Estate in south Oxfordshire, between the Chilterns and the river Thames. The farm is made up of 17...

Reduced Tillage: Farmer’s motivations and problems

A video from the TILMAN-ORG project providing useful insights from farmers who have have adopted reduced tillage on their farms.

Towards farmer principles of health

Ten statements / principles farmers have developed that make them successful in developing healthy farming systems, as part of the HealthNetworks Project, and used as...

Earthworms – Architects of fertile soils

Earthworms; their biology, ecology, and multiple services they provide, and what we can do to ensure they thrive and benefit soil fertility.

Sustaining our soils: Getting the balance right

Recording of an Organic Growers Alliance's Organic Matters 22 conference session exploring stockfree organic standards and carbon sequestration, mobile green manures, Organic-PLUS trials on fertility-building...
To top