Did that headline grab your attention? I hope so. It still surprises me how many people fail to make the connection between conservation/climate-smart ag/soil health and the positive impact good natural resource management can have on your bottom line. I have to scratch my head every time it’s overlooked how poor resource management can negatively affect an individual’s personal profit margin while also impacting the rest of society.So, let’s try again.It’s estimated that soil erosion costs the United States around $44 billion each year in lost agricultural land. That’s a lot of money. I’ve always heard that if you’re not working to control soil erosion on your land it’s like you’re throwing dollar bills into the nearest creek. These numbers show that pretty well.
Farmland where I live in central Oklahoma is currently selling for around $3,000 an acre. It is estimated that Oklahoma loses over 50 million tons of soil each year to water erosion alone. If you consider that an acre-foot of soil weighs 2000 tons, that equals out to over $75 million in land value lost each year in Oklahoma to JUST water erosion (remember, the wind also comes sweepin’ down the plains here….and takes soil away with it too).That’s a lot of dollar bills in the water.Still, many will say, “this is all abstract. Yes, a lot of soil is lost and over time that may degrade my overall wealth, but that really doesn’t affect my pocketbook this year.”I must humbly disagree.According to a report from North Dakota State University, agriculture producers lose nearly $700 worth of nutrients when they lose one inch of topsoil (keep in mind that is calculated at 2021 prices). In addition, researchers at the University of Colorado looked at the impact soil deterioration had on the bottom line of U.S. corn farmers. According to their study, unhealthy soil costs producers as much as half-billion dollars each year. They found that one-third of the fertilizer applied to grow corn in the U.S. each year is simply compensating for the ongoing loss of soil fertility. On top of this, Iowa State University agronomy professor Richard Cruse was reported as saying that farmers can lose between 50% and 70% of their yield potential because of the loss of topsoil.Increased costs; reduced yields; loss of overall wealth. Yep, soil erosion does cost you money.The good news is we know we can do a lot to address soil erosion. Through programs like EQIP and CSP the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) can help ag producers with the implementation of practices on working lands to help address not just soil erosion but other natural resource issues (like water availability and non-point source pollution) as well.It also should be noted that more likely than not, the same practices that address issues like soil erosion and non-point source pollution also help address greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere. These same practices can also help reduce input costs like fuel and fertilizer while maintaining (and often increasing) yields (I have written about this before—you can read more here, here, and here, or you can check out all our blogs on the hub website here).Keep your money in your pocket. BEFORE you start throwing those greenbacks from the bank in the creek go to your local USDA service center and see what you can do to stop wasting the money you may already be throwing away due to soil erosion.
Clay Pope is a farmer and rancher from Loyal, Okla., and is working as a consultant to the USDA Southern Plains Climate Hub. He also serves on as a board member of the Oklahoma Wheat Growers Assn. He is former executive director of the Oklahoma Assn. of Conservation Districts.
On this episode of Conservation Ag Update, brought to you by Montag, we’re on the road at the National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville, Ky. Jeff Hadacheck from Wisconsin-Madison discusses the long term economic benefits of integrating winter wheat in your corn-soybean rotation. Plus, we visit with Brandon Somers at the Beck’s Practical Farm Research (PFR) insights meeting. Somers talks about his ideal no-till planter.
Needham Ag understands the role of technology in making better use of limited resources within a specific environment by drawing on a wealth of global experience to overcome the challenges facing today's farmers, manufacturers and dealers.