Soil is a non-renewable resource


As conservationists, we are focused on doing the right things today so that we may have a vibrant tomorrow. It is a delicate balance between man and the environment.

While many of the earth’s resources are renewable, some are finite and can be easily depleted. Estimates are that the world’s population will exceed 9 billion by 2050.

In 1960, one farmer provided food and fiber for 25.8 people. Today that number is 155 people.

In 1944, the average U.S. corn production was 33 bushels per acre. By 2014 the average grew to 173.4.

Today, many Delaware County agricultural producers regularly top 220 bushels per acre. As populations continue to increase, more and more agricultural land will be consumed for housing. Imagine what farmers’ yields will need to be in 2050 to feed 9 billion people!

The food we grow to provide energy, proteins, vitamins and minerals depends directly on the condition of the soil. Soil degradation occurs when soils are neglected, leading to declining crop yields. Soil is considered a nonrenewable resource, which means its loss is not recoverable during a human lifespan since it can take 500 years or more for an inch of topsoil to form. As our population grows, comprehensive soil stewardship practices are more important than ever.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, sustainable soil management includes the following:

• Increasing soil organic matter. For farmers, this can be achieved through the use of no-till, cover crops and spreading livestock manure. For homeowners, leaving grass clippings on the lawn will produce similar results.

• Keeping the soil surface vegetated. Plant roots provide the easiest source of food for soil microbes which are working hard underneath the surface to improve soil health.

• Using nutrients wisely. Regular soil testing will determine the right source of nutrients, the right rate of nutrients, the right time for application and right placement to maximize productivity, minimize costs and minimize impacts to the environment. This holds for farm fields, lawns, vegetable gardens, flower beds and golf courses.

• Practicing crop rotation. Rotating crops breaks up weed, disease and insect cycles on the farm and in the vegetable garden. This means less use of herbicides and insecticides. Biodiversity above ground means biodiversity below ground which helps create productive soil.

• Reducing soil erosion. Wind and water can move soil from where it is needed and into roadside ditches, streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands — negatively impacting water quality. Erosion strips away topsoil and organic matter, taking with it water holding capacity, infiltration and available nutrients.

As humans, we strive for healthy bodies to perform our tasks most efficiently, and so do soils. Soil is a living, dynamic environment that is influenced by what we do and the practices we implement. Whether you are an agricultural producer or a rural, urban or suburban resident, the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District has great ideas on how to improve your soil through a variety of conservation practices. Check us out at www.delawareswcd.org or by calling the Delaware SWCD office at 740-368-1921.

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Brad RossContributing columnist

Brad Ross is communications specialist at the Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District. He can be reached at brad-ross@delawareswcd.org.