April's Ag Advice by April Borders Soil is the storehouse of water and nutrients for living plants and microorganisms. Minerals from the soil are absorbed by crops and provide nutrients for all living things. People depend upon the soil to produce the food and fiber they need to survive. The condition of the soil is dependent on people.
Soil erosion is the wearing away, or loss of soil (from a given site or location) through the actions of wind, water or other forces. Plant roots help hold soil in place, absorb water and protect soil from the direct forces of wind and rain. People increase the opportunity for erosion when they remove plant life for construction projects, harvesting and mining operations or farming.
During the 1930s, farmers on the Great Plains learned the hard way that careless plowing of sturdy native grasses, coupled with devastating drought and winds will strip land of valuable topsoil necessary for producing crops. During this period, great clouds of soil were blown hundreds of miles away. This region became known as the Dust Bowl and those days are referred to as the Dirty '30s.
Today farmers implement soil conservation practices to reduce erosion, and to allow the land to recover. After harvesting, farmers leave the roots and stubble of harvested crops on the field (conservation tillage) and plow as little as possible. They create grass channels (waterways) to deter water erosion during rainy times. They plant strips of shrubs and trees (windbreaks) along the sides of fields to protect the soil from wind erosion.
Farmers who raise cattle practice better grazing management techniques. They also work at replanting and reseeding grasses and forbs to help protect the soil. This slows water runoff and prevents water from racing down the hills carrying away valuable topsoil.
Taking care of our soil is very important. Soil is a non-renewable resource. When we look out across our land it's hard to believe that we will ever run out of soil. Here's a great way to understand how much soil we have to use for farming and crop production.
Take an apple. This apple represents the earth. Cut the apple into four quarters (four equal pieces). Now, set aside three of these quarters. These three quarters represent the water that covers the earth. The one piece left (1/4) represents the land.
Now cut this one piece (the land) into four quarters (four equal pieces). Again, set aside three of these pieces. These three pieces represent the land area that is inhospitable to people: the polar areas, desert, swamps and mountain areas. The section that is left over is one-eighth of our original apple or world. It represents the land area where people live, but not all of this land is capable of growing food.
Cut the one piece (one-eighth of an apple) into four sections. Once again, set aside three of these sections. These three sections represent the land areas that are too rocky, too cold, too steep or with too poor of soil to actually produce food. This also includes the cities, suburban sprawls, highways, shopping centers, schools, parks, factories, parking lots, and other places where people live but do not necessarily grow food.
The piece that you have left is one-thirty second of the original. Now, on this last one-thirty second of the apple peel off the skin. This tiny bit of peeling represents the surface, the very skin of the earth's crust upon which mankind depends. It is less than five feet deep and is a fixed amount of food producing land.
I hope that by giving you this example you can start to see how important our soil and our world is. We need to protect our land resources and use them wisely. For more informationcontact the Extension office. at 677-7111.