Techniques and methods used in farming are beginning to change. For example, physical methods such as 'no-till' farming are rising in popularity
, as the benefits to soil preservation are demonstrated through research and agricultural experience. However, it is difficult to produce yields similar to those achieved when tillage is used
, and equipment is currently expensive.
Other methods such as the use of companion crops or polyculture can limit soil erosion, the growth of weeds, and reduce pests by attracting protective insects and other species
. There are opportunities to further take advantage of the relationships between different crop species, matching desirable phenotypes with specific environments to maintain soil fertility and structure.
Within soil itself there are increasing efforts to understand and take advantage of the bacteria and fungal communities that contribute to fertile and stable growing conditions. Knowledge of the importance of symbiotic mycorrhizal relationships in the availability of nutrients and stabilisation of soil is leading to exploration of the possibilities of artificial inoculation methods
. The role of bacteria in providing nutrients that can be utilised by plants is provoking similar developments
. There are significant opportunities to increase capabilities to monitor, engineer and optimise beneficial microbial and mycobial relationships.
In a similar vein, the development of soil additives, such as biochar, that can simultaneously sequester carbon and improve soil fertility have rich potential
. However, there are technical challenges to optimise performance and production, or to develop other new additives with similar or better properties.
More fundamentally, researchers are working to determine the precise characteristics of healthy soil and to better understand how to monitor this. There is a great opportunity here to improve the decision support tools available to assist people in soil management practices.
Finally, it is important to be aware of global agricultural practices. Although commercial farming is the norm in developed countries, family farms produce over three quarters of the world's food
. Developing innovative solutions that fit this context would be a significant breakthrough.