Our food security is strongly dependent on the changing climate. At the same time, present-day conventional agriculture practices are contributing to climate change, causing major changes in nature’s balance for maintaining our food security. Over the years, we are slowly understanding changes in climate that may be changing our food security. On April 7, 2024, west central Minnesota experienced a mini dust bowl, with more than 12 hours of howling winds averaging 30 mph with gusts up to 56 mph at the Morris Airport, reminiscent of the severe derecho of May 12, 2022. This extreme weather made us aware of our “Bare Soil Syndrome” and wind erosion as we drove through dust clouds moving over the roads and watched drifts of rich, valuable soil going downwind to the neighbor’s fields with some accumulating in the road ditches. Soil erosion is still a major problem in many agricultural production systems. History provides lessons; however, history’s lessons have often been ignored.  

Good news! I just learned that the Stevens County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) received a major grant to hire a soil health expert. Perhaps you are asking, what is a soil health expert? Soil health is a recognition that the soil is teeming with life and metaphorically borrows from the principles of human health. A healthy soil is a dynamic, heterogeneous living entity that directly supports healthy plant life, and when we consider soil as a living system, soil health is analogous to human health. Soil health is well understood as the continued capacity of a soil to function as a vital, living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals and humans. Our soil is the foundation of our food production systems, providing greater than 98% of our food.

The importance of soil health is reinforced by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s (MDA) Soil Health Financial Assistance Grants that are available to individual producers, producer groups and local governments to purchase or retrofit soil health equipment. Good soil health is important to soil, water, air quality and all our other natural resources and ecosystem services, and using appropriate soil health management systems can increase net farm income, a quadruple-win: for the soil, the environment, the climate and the farmer.

Dust storms carry millions of tons of soil into the air each year from thousands of miles away and can last a few hours or a few days. They have caused major interstate highway accidents around the U.S., and have direct and indirect impacts on public health and human health. I am optimistic the more we learn about soil health and all the health ramifications with respect to our food security will surely be appreciated by my grandchildren. If we keep the soil healthy, we provide healthy food, healthy humans, a healthy environment and a healthy planet. I look forward to the new soil health program at Stevens County SWCD to help educate, demonstrate, facilitate and implement soil health practices on our valuable soils in west central Minnesota. We owe it to future generations.

Related Content

[Podcast] Understanding the Carbon Cycle with Don Reicosky

[Podcast] Defining Conservation Agriculture Systems with Don Reicosky

Another Dust Storm Catastrophe 90 Years Later that No-Till Could Have Prevented