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Think Different: Sustain Your SoilThink Different: Sustain Your Soil

Kurt Lawton

September 1, 2012

2 Min Read


Don't know about you, but my head is swimming in all the sustainability talk thrown about by everyone from anti-agriculture activists to food retailers to companies.

Yup, farmers have heard loud and clear that they must ramp up per-acre production, and do it in a more sustainable way, to help feed 9 billion people by 2050. And to their credit, farmers have made big sustainability strides in the last 30 years (see Field to Market facts on page 10).

One statistic that made me cringe – per-acre soil erosion has remained relatively constant since the mid-1990s, and in corn the trends indicate an increase in total annual erosion. Such erosion can't all be blamed on farming practices, as it is true that a higher frequency of extreme rainfall events can even erode conservation tillage acres.

However, the long-term no-till guys are winning this extreme weather battle. They are proving their mellow soils not only hold a lot more rain, but their penchant for cover crops are locking moisture in during drought as well as building the soil to use less fertilizer and herbicides – all for a good profit.

What I deem as soil-first farming advocates are truly raising the sustainability bar. Our cover story that begins on page 12 showcases the cost savings of farmers using no-till and strip-till to benefit the long-term improvement of the soil. We talked to farmers who are beating the odds to make less tillage work in both tough soils and on very large family farms.

One story not to miss is our profile of Kansas farmer Gail Fuller, who is taking no-till and cover/companion crops to an amazing level. He is halting erosion and rebuilding soil health (both topsoil and organic matter) with incredible speed, while cutting fertilizer and herbicide inputs.

Like he says in the piece, "Most farmers think I'm an idiot." While farmers may label him crazy, I see it differently, paraphrasing back to my initial column in January – "About the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things. They push the human race forward."

We hope such Think Different mindsets will spur you to take a greater look at sustainable fields. Those who do will be better prepared to serve sustainable markets. If you don't believe me, read the following quote I heard last week from Andrea Thomas, senior VP of Walmart Sustainability (the nation's largest grocer) – "Walmart is proud to be the first retailer to join Field to Market. As the world's population grows to 9 billion people, the entire supply chain – from growers to processors to food companies – must develop deep collaboration and partnership to rise to the challenge of feeding the future."

I sincerely thank you for reading and for being willing to Think Different.

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