Nearly half of all the world’s top soil has disappeared over the last 150 years, despite its critical importance to our food supply. At least 95 percent of our global food supply relies on rich topsoil for production and the better the soil the more nutritious the food. Experts warn that without massive reformations to agriculture and city planning, we could run out of topsoil in the next 60 years.
Intensive farming is the primary cause for the loss of topsoil. Soil that is exposed to elements like wind and rain is easily lost on farms that rely on chemical inputs to compensate for the lack of nutritious top soil. Other farming practices, like over-tilling, synthetic chemical use and lack of cover crops contributes to the degradation of soil as well.
“We never want to see our soil unless we go looking for it,” says Keith Berns a farmer in Nebraska who advocates for the use of cover crops and no-till methods. Across the country, more and more farmers are switching to strategies that do not plow or till their land and are seeing more organic matter in their soil.
Although not all farmers are sold on its benefits, the percentage of land using no-till methodology was up to 40 percent in 2017, a small but significant increase from just 32 percent in 2012. Similarly, the percentage of land with cover crops saw an increase of 50 percent from five years prior, which totals about 15 million acres of cover crop.
Soil advocates are hopeful that state legislation and programs will further incentivize farmers to practice more responsible farming that maintains and replenishes soil. In Maryland and Virginia, for example, government grants helped encourage farmers to switch to cover crop systems and the benefits to the soil have been considerable.
Image via daeron