The new nationwide "Unlock the Secrets of the Soil Campaign" unleashed by the Natural Resources Conservation Service recently is all about increasing productivity and improving the economics of soil conservation and farming, says Dave White, chief of NRCS, soon to leave his post to become a private consultant.
Improved soil health will be the key to feeding 9 billion people by 2050, he says. Some place the estimate lower, at 8 billion, others place it higher, at about 10 billion. Right now, the world population is about 6 billion people.
"Soil health will be the strength farmers rely on to accomplish this task," he says. "Farmers will be asked to produce as much food in the next 40 years as has been produced in the past 500 years combined.
"We have to do this, and at the same time understand that we have to have clean air, do it in a way that promotes wildlife and maintain the environment.
"Soil health will be better in the long term because we are learning how to improve it. The solutions to improving soil health and feeding this growing population won't come from some think tank somewhere. The solutions will come from producers doing it on the land."
White emphasized just how big the task is through an example related to the population dynamics. The projected difference in estimates of how many people there will be to feed worldwide by 2050 – just the margin of error itself – is equal to the total population of the world in 1950. That's just slightly more than half a century ago.
Indiana has been a leader in turning the interest of farmers and government leaders back to the importance of the soil. Farmers who are excelling at no-tilling and using cover crops in their system to improve soil tilth and deep rooting are serving as examples to the rest of the country that it can be done.