Last year was tough for many Americans in dealing with the aftermath of several natural disasters.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reports that more than 25 million Americans — almost 8% of the population — were affected by major disasters in 2017. From hurricane-related damage in Florida, Puerto Rico and Texas to mudslides and wildfires in California, major natural disasters in 2017 cost over $306 billion nationally.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information, this is a new annual record.
Of course, some of those effects were certainly felt by farmers trying to raise their crops and make a living. FEMA and the NRCS believe that while we cannot prevent natural disasters, we do have the power to prepare for and potentially reduce their impacts through advanced planning.
The NRCS asks, “What is the role of soil health in natural disaster mitigation?”
Bianca Moebius-Clune, director of the NRCS’ soil health division, believes our nation’s farms, ranches, forests and even backyards have a role to play in providing mitigation benefits as well.
“We can’t make it rain, nor can we prevent a hurricane,” says Moebius-Clune. “But land managers can manage their land to increase the soil’s ability to take in, or infiltrate and drain, rainwater.”
Moebius-Clune notes that soils with a greater capacity to take in and hold water are also beneficial in periods of drought, like that which was experienced in the upper Great Plains last year.
Whether managing an urban backyard or 1,000 acres of cropland, Moebius-Clune says that key soil health management principles remain largely unchanged. “Healthy soils are generally undisturbed with abundant and diverse life, no compaction, relatively high levels of organic matter and stable aggregates.”
While the readers of No-Till Farmer are already striving to improve soil health, the NCRS encourages all farmers to adopt conservation practices like no-till, crop rotations and cover crops to achieve these goals. But beyond farmers, it will take everyone’s participation to make a difference. Soil health management principles can apply in nearly all human-managed landscapes when properly adapted.
In the February issue of our Conservation Tillage Guide we asked a roundtable question related to landlord attitudes regarding no-till farming practices.
While many of our readers wrote about positive experiences discussing no-till with landlords, a number of farmers also detailed continued resistance to soil conservation ideas.
As one Iowa no-tiller wrote: “Many have the perspective that no-till is only for poor soils or land with hills (highly erodible). A common viewpoint is that no tillers are lazy.”
The link above takes you to a set of useful NRCS documents that clearly define good soil health principles and benefits in easy-to-understand formats. These could be handy “leave behind” tools to take along on your next visit with a landlord that is resistant or indifferent to no-tilling.