A Culture of Conservation: Don’t Call it Dirt – A Passion for Soil

A Culture of Conservation: Don’t Call it Dirt – A Passion for Soil


Soil is one of our most precious natural
resources. It’s the foundation of our whole
ecosystem. It is the basis of all plant growth, providing us food, clothing, and
other materials. Soil filters water, decomposes waste, stores heat, and
exchanges gases. Soil is the core of civilization, and is used in construction,
medicine, and art. It holds the geologic, climatic, biological, and cultural records
of the earth. Only ten to twelve percent of the earth’s surface is available to
grow food, fiber, and fuel. It’s our responsibility to maintain a delicate
balance, maximizing food, fiber, and fuel production, without diminishing the soil
resource. The U.S. Midwest is one of the earth’s most fertile regions. How do we continue to maximize the land’s
output without diminishing the soil’s natural capacity? Poor soil management
can wipe out in decades what the earth took hundreds, even thousands of years to
create. Even under favorable conditions, soil formation is a very slow process. It
takes thousands of years for rock to develop in the soil, and hundreds of
years for rich, organic layers to build up. Soil is made up of air, water, mineral
particles, organic matter, and organisms. Half the volume of soil is pore space,
filled equally with both water and air. Most of the solid portion of soil is
mineral particles. Even though organic matter makes up less than ten percent of
soil volume, it binds soil particles together, stores nutrients, and feeds soil
organisms. Organic matter is created by tiny, living organisms that decompose
dead plants and animals, creating the nutrients needed for new plants to grow.
Roots and tunneling creatures turn the soil around and mix it. Without these
organisms and activities, plants could not grow. For generations, farmers have
turned over the rich, black soil. Plowed fields may look and smell great, but
turning fields black by plowing under plant residues can turn the skies black
through wind erosion and water brown from water erosion. When topsoil is lost,
less fertile soil is left behind. The devastating erosion events of the
1920s and ’30s led to the establishment of the U.S. Natural
Resource Conservation Service in 1935. Originally called the soil conservation
service, this organization created the first soil conservation policy and
promoted legislation that allowed for the formation of state conservation
services, such as the Iowa Division of Soil Conservation and the local soil and
water conservation districts. In order to preserve agricultural productivity,
conservationists have focused on reducing soil loss and displacement. By
the end of the 20th century, concerns about air and water quality became as
important as concerns about agricultural productivity. To address these challenges
and maintain the land’s productive potential, we must go beyond erosion
control, and manage for soil quality. How soil functions on farms, lawns,
parks, or forests, not just in buffers or waterways, effects erosion rates,
agricultural productivity, air quality, and water quality. Organic matter enhances water and
nutrient holding capacity, and improves soil structure. Managing soil to increase
organic matter can enhance productivity and quality, reducing the severity and
cost of natural phenomena such as drought, flood, and disease. In addition,
increasing levels of organic matter can increase soil carbon and carbon
sequestration, or storage, and can reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide levels that
contribute to climate change. Keeping soil in place is only the beginning of
soil conservation. To function well, soil must hold nitrogen, phosphorus, and
pesticides in place, and keep them out of surface water. Soil must deliver
nutrients and water to plants as they need them. Healthy soil can minimize the
effects of floods and droughts. Organic matter helps soil perform all these
functions. Creating a culture of conservation means accounting for and
enhancing soil quality, not just managing land for tolerable soil laws. Think about
how these practices control soil erosion while enhancing soil’s organic matter. Lengthen crop rotations by adding high
residue crops that also increase diversity. Crop health and vigor increase
when soil biological activity and diversity increase. Use cover crops when
possible. Cover crops can fix nitrogen from the air or capture excess nutrients
from the soil, in addition to minimizing erosion. Reduced tillage; the best erosion
control for Midwest cropland is to use continuous no-till. Other conservation
tillage systems aren’t as effective. Rotate livestock among pastures to
maintain ground cover and protect the soil. This also will ensure the health
and productivity of grazing lands. Use mulch anywhere that you have bare
soil in your yard or garden. It conserves soil and water. Soil is a living thing
that will thrive if properly fed and cared for, whether it is part of a city
park, a backyard, or a farmer’s field.

4 thoughts on “A Culture of Conservation: Don’t Call it Dirt – A Passion for Soil

  1. Great Video! I'm from Hungary and in our country the farmers use conventional tillage and they don't understand what are the benefits of the conservation tillage systems and the conservation farmland management. They always till the field to reach the maximum yield. I think in my country the soil erosion is a big problem, but the farmers don't care by this. But I belive the farmland conservation and I work that the farmers know field conservation technologys. This video great example to show it

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