60 harvests left. How can we save our soil?

  • By Rebecca Kesner
  • 9 minute read
60 harvests left. How can we save our soil?

We have 60 harvests left.

This was the warning from the U.N according to a 2014 article in the Scientific American. It estimated we have approximately 60 years, before our planet's soils are too barren to feed us.

So, 51 years and counting guys...

It's terrifyingly bleak and certainly captures attention. And while there's some dispute as to the source and truth of the number, one thing there's no disputing, is the fact that many of our soils are degrading at an alarming rate. And we need to act.

The United Nations predicts the world's population will reach nearly 10 billion by 2050. And it's estimated the world will need to grow 50% more food to feed this swell in numbers.

With shocking statistics like those above, you might be wondering why we haven't heard more about this. Why we haven't done more about this. How have we not seen what's happening right beneath our feet? Perhaps we don't realize how much impact soil has on our health, our climate, our water, and our environment.

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The simple truth is: Quality soil = quality food. Quality food = quality of health. We are as healthy as the soil. And the soil's not looking great.

In this piece we'll look at how it started, where we're at, and what we can do to save our soil.

So how did we get here?

Soil degradation: A growing concern.

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Soil erosion is not a new problem. But climate change, intensive agriculture, deforestation, and industrial activities have accelerated the loss of soil in almost every country across the globe. Farming techniques such as tilling and pesticides have resulted in the breakdown of soil structure, causing the death of essential bacteria and fungi. Key moments in history have highlighted and contributed to the wider, ongoing problem with our soil today:

The Dust Bowl Drought

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Perhaps one of the biggest environmental disasters was the American dust bowl droughts of the 1930s. Farmers tilled once fertile mid-western planes, leaving soil exposed. This, coupled with drought conditions and high winds created massive dust storms. Thousands were driven from their homes and by the end of 1934, 200 million acres of cropland had been permanently damaged.

Climate change

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Rising greenhouse gas emissions have led to excessive rainfall, heatwaves, and freak storms. All of which have wreaked havoc on our soil. These extreme weather conditions weaken the soil's fundamental composition, making it susceptible to erosion, degradation, and the depletion of natural organic matter in the soil.

Post-War Agriculture

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The post war era saw tech and economic change collide - resulting in new agricultural practices. WWII left the government with large quantities of unused chemicals. This surplus was put to use in agriculture as fertilizer and pesticides.

America's war on bugs

Soil contains a universe of microbes and life. These organisms process organic matter in the soil and put nutrients in the form that plants need. We eat the plants and that feeds the hungry good bacteria in our gut. We need these microbes. The soil needs these microbes. The environment needs these microbes.

But pesticides are killing these microbes.

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How do we fix our broken food system?

One of the suggestions to reverse the soil issue was the '4 per 1,000' initiative launched during the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) held in Paris. In simple terms, the initiative called for countries to scale up regenerative farming, grazing and land-use practices which in theory, would draw down more carbon than we emit, and store it in the soil.

Whilst the effectiveness and complexities of this proposal are being discussed, countries are recognizing the need for further sustainable solutions.

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The Rise of Food Technology and Investment in Innovation

Global investment in food technology has skyrocketed in recent years. According to the UK's innovation agency for social change, Nesta, investment in food tech has increased 40 times over the past decade, reaching a record high of £26.9 billion in 2021. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) also announced in April 2023, a $3 billion investment to support new revenue streams for America's climate-smart farmers.

There's hope on the horizon.

What if, there were technologies out there that allowed crops to grow in locations where conventional farming isn't possible? That allowed crops to grow, without the need for land and soil. If fertile soil is disappearing fast, should we invest in soil-less solutions to satisfy our nutritional needs?

Vertical farming and lab-grown nutrients may hold some of the answers. Both offer alternatives for personalized nutrition and reduce our reliance on industrial farming.

What is Vertical Farming?

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Vertical farming, in simple terms refers to growing crops in vertically stacked layers with LED lighting at each level.

And it is phenomenal.

It's sometimes referred to as 'urban farming' as the model lends itself well to re-purposing neglected buildings and structures and using them as 'labs' to grow plants in.

Vertical farming uses controlled-environment agriculture (CEA) techniques, meaning the entire process happens in a controlled environment that optimizes plant growth using soilless farming techniques such as hydroponics, aeroponics, and aquaponics.

Time to grow-up: The benefits of vertical farming.

There's lots to shout about in terms of the benefits of vertical farming. Some of the key USPs are:

Efficient Use of Space: Because vertical farms stack their crops, they can produce more food per square foot than traditional farming methods.

Controlled Environment: With a fully controlled environment, factors such as light, humidity, temperature, nutrients, and water can be precisely monitored, measured, and optimized to maximize yield. This unique environment means seasonal fruit and veg can be grown all year round without the need for import. And it gets even smarter than that. Aerofarms are innovators who use their own LED lighting to create a custom light algorithm for each plant. Giving them exactly the spectrum, intensity, and frequency they need for photosynthesis in the most energy efficient way.

Reduced Water Usage: Many vertical farms employ recirculating hydroponics, which significantly reduces the amount of water needed compared to traditional agriculture. An estimated 40% of water used in traditional farming methods evaporates. You're essentially watering the air. In vertical farming, there's nowhere for the water to go, so it gets recycled and reused. Soilless growth methods mean roots are misted with a nutrient rich formula to deliver just the right amount of moisture and nourishment.

No Pesticides: Because they're grown in a controlled, indoor environment, vertical farms can greatly reduce or even eliminate the use of pesticides and herbicides, resulting in cleaner, healthier produce.

Less Land and Transport Costs: Vertical farms can be established within urban areas, which decreases transportation distance and costs to consumers. Which in turn, cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions. In 2022, the UK imported 2 million tonnes of vegetables, making it the third largest importer of vegetables in the world. These were mostly from EU countries. This not only has a bigger carbon footprint than growing locally, but a bigger impact on cost to consumer due to Brexit red tape and import costs.

Can vertical farms feed the world?

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Whilst it solves many agricultural problems, in its current status, vertical farming is not without its flaws. While the technology shows huge promise and potential for the future, high start-up costs, a significant demand for energy and manual pollination are still among its challenges.

There's also a fair way to go before we'll see all our food grown in this way. Leafy greens like lettuce, kale, watercress, and herbs are favorites for indoor agriculture as they are high value, grow quickly, have little waste, and offer a quicker return on initial investment. When it comes to other veg such as squash, eggplants, and carrots - when the harvest is over, there's a large amount of waste. This has a cost implication for disposal, composting and profit per square meter. Field crops cannot be produced in a vertical farming set-up at the moment. Barley or wheat takes months to grow, and maintaining the right conditions for all crops to thrive could be costly to farmers.

Although renewable energy sources are used wherever possible, large amounts of electricity are needed, and in many places, this is still coming from fossil fuels. But these are early days, and as such, innovations within the sector will evolve. And with food security a growing concern, alternatives such as vertical farming are attracting attention and investment.

This undeniable problem with our soil leads to other challenges. The fact remains that unfortunately, it's very difficult to get all the nutrients you need from food alone.

The future of food supplements

If you're choosing between supplements, you have 2 choices:

Natural or synthetic.

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And whilst natural is by far the preferred way to go, true 100% organic supplements are hard to find. For all the reasons above, it's very difficult to obtain high levels of vitamins and minerals from plant sources in levels required for supplementation. So, whilst there may be imagery and claims of 'natural' on the label, unless it says "100% natural' - it probably isn't.

The alternative - synthetic supplements, are less attractive. Most of them use heavy and harsh processes to isolate the nutrient. Some may even have residual traces of solvents and chemical compounds leftover from the manufacturing process. And they'll usually show mega high doses on the label too. This is down to their inferior absorption rate. Synthetic nutrients are almost chemically identical to those found in food. However, the production process is very different to the way plants create them - so your body may react differently to them.

Synthetic vitamins and minerals don't carry the same trace minerals, enzymes, and cofactors that whole food vitamins come with. Without these, our bodies don't recognise them, and they get rejected. Straight down the toilet.

Evolution means your body is perfectly in tune with what it needs to function normally. And it's not going to be fooled by some cheap vitamin supplement claiming to be the real deal.

It knows.

But what if, you could grow vitamins - so they were nature identical? What if you could grow them so they have all the cofactors and essential compounds that vitamins derived from whole foods have. And what if they can be made without the nasty additives, heavy metals, dioxides, or solvents. What if these nutrients presented themselves in the same way as a food complex - so your body could absorb and utilize them in exactly the same way it would a food.

Enter nature identical vitamins.

What are nature identical vitamins?

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The term "nature-identical" refers to a type of vitamin that is identical to its natural counterpart. It's grown in a lab but can be found in nature in the exact same form. Under a microscope and in the body, they look and behave the same.

To grow these vitamins, live single cell organisms (probiotics, brewer's yeast, and botanicals) are seeded with micronutrients in a hydroponic medium. As the live cells take up and metabolize the micronutrients, they divide and thrive - naturally growing new vitamins, minerals, and amino acids within a matrix of cofactors.

The benefits of nature identical nutrients

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At Performance Lab® , we use NutriGenesis® innovation in our vitamin and mineral supplements. Using the latest nutrition technology, vitamins and minerals are cultivated in a unique process that replicates nature. In a state-of-the-art setting.

Performance Lab® vitamins grown in this way offer benefits that are a world away from synthetics:


Because they match whole foods' natural nutrients and co-factors structure, nature identical nutrients may be more easily recognized, absorbed, and utilized by the body.


Our nutrients are produced with sustainable practices in mind. Water usage is tracked with aims of reduction and no preservatives or chemicals are used in the production process. The live medium in which they're grown takes away the need for harsh toxic chemicals and processing agents.


Our vitamins and minerals are grown under strict regulations from the USA. Our processes, facilities and labs are registered with the FDA, and are sent to an external third-party laboratory for analysis. Raw materials are quarantined and verified for superior identity, purity, and safety before they're accepted.

Clean Label Certified

Clean Label Project purchases products at retail, tests them for purity (chemicals of concern including heavy metals, pesticide residues, and plasticizers), and compares the results to high-risk chemicals listed on the State of California Environmental Health Hazard Assessment Office's Proposition 65 list. If the product is found to comply, it qualifies for Clean Label Project Certification.

The Future of Nutrition: Embracing Change for a Sustainable World

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If we can agree that the biggest problem facing farming is the decline in land and soil quality, then the biggest environmental solution is to look for more sustainable, less aggressive practices to get us the nutrients we need.

As we face the challenges of a growing population, climate change, and resource scarcity, it's crucial to embrace innovative solutions. These technologies offer a path towards sustainable agriculture, personalized nutrition, and food security.

Harnessing the power of biotechnology allows us to tackle nutrient deficiencies on a large scale and ensure access to vital vitamins and minerals. Vertical farming revolutionizes food production by reducing environmental harm, optimizing resource utilization, and enabling year-round crop cultivation.

The future of nutrition hinges on investment in sustainable alternatives. Integrating these technologies and embracing data-driven approaches is key. Through the utilization of lab-grown nutrients, vertical farming techniques, and digital platforms, we can establish a sustainable and personalized food system that caters to individual needs, promotes well-being, and protects the planet.