Pharos-Tribune

Opinion

September 4, 2013

PUBLIC FORUM: Letters from Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013

Farmers help Americakeep soil healthy

Our lives are dependent on healthy soil. While most people think of soil as just dirt, its functions are crucial to our very existence.

And while it may seem trivial at first glance, healthy soil gives us clean air and water, bountiful crops and forests, productive grazing lands, diverse wildlife and beautiful landscapes. It’s the reason why USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service experts are in your community and across the nation.

Healthy soil contains nutrients necessary for supporting plants and animals. And just as plants and animals depend on soil, the soil microbes depend on them, too. Soil is where the integration of living and non-living things takes place – part of a process that is millions of years old.

To improve the health of their soil, more and more farmers are keeping soil covered, reducing disturbance activities such as tilling, keeping plants growing throughout the year, and diversifying the crops they’re planting in a rotation. Taking these steps allow farmers and ranchers to help reduce erosion while increasing the soil’s ability to provide nutrients and water to the plant at critical times during the growing season.

When agricultural producers focus on improving soil health, they often have larger harvests, lower input costs, optimized nutrient use, and improved crop resilience during drought years like last year. In heavy rainfall years, healthy soil holds more water, reducing runoff that helps avert flooding downstream.

And because healthy soil allows for greater water infiltration and less erosion, nutrients and pesticides stay on the farm where they benefit crops, and are far less likely to be carried off the farm into streams and lakes where they can cause harm.

If soil is not cared for, fertile land may become worn out leading to less food and higher prices. It’s important to remember the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s and the lessons of not taking care of soil. This ecological disaster, compounded by drought, led to windstorms and massive soil erosion for nearly a decade on our Great Plains as farms were rendered infertile.

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