Don't take dirt for granted

Published on: 09:51AM Nov 09, 2009
Top soil depletion could rival global warming as the next natural global dilemma according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's article "The lowdown on top soil: It's disappearing."

Currently in the US, there is about 3 feet of top soil that is made up of many micro organisms and fungus that help support growth. According to David Montgomery, a geologist at the University of Washington, the problem is that this priceless dirt is disappearing at a rate of about 1% per year. The culprit is water and wind erosion. The National Academy of Sciences claims that top soil is being eroded in the US 10 times faster than it can be replaced.

When the Spring rains come, they carry loose soil out of fields, into small creeks and eventually into a bigger river that empties into an ocean. Some believe the public is not taking this issue seriously enough. According to John Reganold, a soils scientist at Washington State University, "It's hard to get people to pay much attention to this because, frankly, most of us take soil for granted."

What is being done to help this issue

The US Department of Agriculture has been trying to solve this problem for many years with spotted success. The USDA has created many different programs to promote conservation farming practices.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service claims, "The Food Security Act of 1985, as amended, provides dis-incentives to farmers and ranchers who produce annually tilled agricultural commodity crops on highly erodible cropland without adequate erosion protection."

The USDA has the right to say what land is or isn't classified as highly erodible land. If land is classified as HEL, then even more regulations are placed on the farming techniques used, to prevent more soil loss. In a 1996 Farm Bill, "violations of the HEL requirements could disqualify a person from the direct (AMTA) payments and formalizes the development of the conservation plans."

No-till practices are the best way for the average farmer to do their part to help stop erosion. These practices do have their downsides. They require learning new techniques along with a large capital investment of some new equipment. Also, more use of herbicides is necessary to control weeds that are not tilled under. Farmers who have switched to no-till farming claim that the soil can grip to the old matter left in the fields from prior seasons, thus slowing erosion.

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