While many people overlook soil as 'just dirt,' human life depends on healthy soils. Civilizations, in fact, came to fruition in tandem with cultivating soils for agricultural development. Soil degradation and erosion have also contributed to most civilizational collapses throughout world history.
Healthy soils provide many benefits, including:
•Regulating water, which can help reduce flooding and drought impacts and improve water quality
•Sustaining plant and animal life needed to sustain our own lives and livelihoods
•Cycling nutrients including carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorous
Across much of Iowa and the tallgrass prairie biome, we have lost half or more of our topsoil. Fortunately in recent decades, agricultural conservation practices have significantly reduced the rate of soil erosion, but soil health continues to suffer in many places.
In hilly areas like western and southern Iowa, soil quality has decreased in recent years on the tops and sides of hills as topsoil has washed downhill with snowmelt and rainfall. Wind erosion also blows away topsoil,
According to the 2021 article by Thaler, Larsen, and Yu, "The extent of soil loss across the US Corn Belt, "[D]egradation of soil quality by erosion reduces crop yields, which can result in food insecurity, conflict (3), and the decline of civilizations (4). Degradation of soils leads not only to economic losses for farmers but also a loss in ecosystem services (5), which alters the ability of soils to regulate hydrologic and biogeochemical cycles. Widespread use of synthetic fertilizers to enhance the function of degraded soils increases food production costs (6) and impairs water resources (7), which negatively impacts human health (8) and aquatic ecosystems (9)."
Although it takes time, soil can be regenerated through a few fairly simple practices known as the soil health principles:
•Maximizing Presence of Living Roots,
•Maximizing Soil Cover, and
N0-till, cover crops, extended rotations, and incorporating livestock into the landscape are some of the of practices farmers can use to regenerate soils.
In the coming weeks and months, we'll be going into detail on these principles, and explore how a variety of conservation practices can be used to improve soil health.
Golden Hills currently has a few projects working on regenerative practices, including RCPP, ALUS, and Underserved Farmer. If you are a farmer interested in these, feel free to contact us!
Stay tuned here for additional information about soil health coming soon!