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Reversing Alarming Trends with Soil Health
by LuAnn Rolling, NRCS District Conservationist
In the book Nature’s History Matters by Allen Williams, Ph. D., he says it helps to understand what a land once was to know its current potential. With the significant weather challenges we are experiencing, we need to know what can be possible if we alter our landscape management.

The western U.S. and many other regions of the country are experiencing extreme to exceptional drought. These conditions are exacerbating our landscape issues, as drought leads to greater drought, fires, barren landscapes, loss of functional water cycles and soil degradation. Our past management of these landscapes has worsened these conditions. Williams says the following are some of the issues that have accelerated over the past several decades:

• Global soils have lost 133 billion tons of carbon.
• Approximately 35% of the midwestern U.S. Corn Belt has lost all of its topsoil. We are now farming subsoil on these lands.
• Our country’s beneficial insect populations have been declining at a rate of 9% per decade.
• In some regions of the U.S., honeybee populations have declined by 90%.
• Grassland bird populations have fallen 53% over the past four decades.
• The boundary between the arid U.S. West and the humid East has shifted 140 miles eastward over the past 100-plus years.
• The U.S. obesity rate has risen from 30% to 42% over the past 20 years.
• Real farm income (minus crop insurance and other subsidy and disaster payments) has steadily eroded, with many farms losing substantial equity and relying on annual operating loans and subsidies to continue to farm.

We know we can significantly alter these alarming developments with proper application of the Principles of Soil Health: minimizing soil disturbance, maintaining residue on the ground, keeping something green and growing with a live root in the ground as much as possible, encouraging plant diversity, and incorporating livestock.

It’s time we remember our soil as something we are a part of and something we nurture. As with anything, these changes can’t happen overnight. It all starts with a step. Maybe that step will be implementing cover crops, decreasing herbicides, incorporating a small grain into your rotation, no-tilling or planting a pollinator plot. It’s time we start taking those steps and get back to the soil.

According to John Meyer, in an article in Soil Health in May 2018, “Soil health is not just about erosion control. It’s about a whole new perspective and respect for what our soil ought to be as created by God, and what our own personal role is in relationship to it as “faithful stewards” of that great blessing.”