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Quit treating Indiana soils like dirtQuit treating Indiana soils like dirt

Here’s a tribute to World Soil Day on Dec. 5.

November 8, 2023

2 Min Read
A warehouse under construction near a road
GONE: The opportunity to farm and grow food, feed and fiber on these soils is lost forever. People made conscious decisions to convert it into warehouses, likely on a permanent basis.Tom J. Bechman

by Tony Bailey

Get ready to celebrate World Soil Day! It’s observed on Dec. 5. Hoosiers are fortunate that some of the best soils in the world are found in Indiana. Soil is one of our greatest natural resources and plays a very important role in our everyday lives.

Yet, because soils are underfoot, they’re often taken for granted. Homes, businesses, schools, roads and farms all depend on soil for their foundation. How well these uses fit a certain area depends upon the type of soil and its characteristics.

In honor of World Soil Day, let’s look at key facts about soils, and what potential threats exist to maintaining healthy, productive soils.

Soil facts

See if you are surprised by this information:

  • About 95% of all food comes from the soil.

  • Roughly three-quarters of the Earth’s surface is covered by water.

  • The thin layer of topsoil on only 1/32 of the Earth’s surface is what humans rely on to grow food.

  • The other 7/32 is covered by mountains, deserts, forests, cities and similar areas. Most of these are not included in agricultural production.

Maintaining and improving soil resources is critically important in meeting current and future food, water, energy and climate security needs. Soils sustain life!

Potential threats

Even though soil is one of man’s greatest natural resources, it is still threatened. Consider these potential threats:

Soil erosion. Our highly productive topsoil washes off or blows away. On average in the U.S., 4 to 6 tons of topsoil per acre is lost each year. How much is your topsoil worth? Are your fields protected from soil erosion?

Loss of soil organic matter. On most cropland, organic matter has decreased by about half since it was converted from forests and prairies. Do you know the organic matter levels in your soils? Over the last 20 years, have organic matter levels continued to decrease, leveled off or started to increase?

Reduced soil biology. Think nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon cycles. Cornstalks left on the surface don’t need tillage. They will break down naturally if you have enough soil biology in your fields. Does your soil biology “process” cornstalks on the surface, and capture and cycle nutrients?

Farmland conversion. Farmland converted to houses, subdivisions, schools, strip malls, box stores, factories, parking lots and roads due to urban sprawl will likely never be farmed again. The U.S. loses between 2 and 4 acres of agricultural land to urban sprawl every minute. Think about the local impact of this. What has happened along the road you’ve taken to town over the last 20 years? How many acres of farmland have been lost? Once lost, does it ever come back into ag production?

It is time to stop treating soils and farmland like dirt. Give soils the respect they deserve. Stop by your local soil and water conservation district or USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service office to start your conservation or regenerative agriculture journey.

Bailey is the state conservation agronomist with the NRCS. He writes on behalf of the Indiana Conservation Partnership.

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FarmlandLand Management
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