I want to start off by wishing all no-tillers out there at happy belated National Ag Day, which was celebrated Tuesday across our great nation. Both myself and all the editors here at No-Till Farmer commend everything you’re doing to protect and build your soils. You serve as a shining example of what our ag industry should be striving for.
We’ve truly come a long way in protecting our nation’s soils. But there is still a way to go — not only in the U.S., but worldwide. Six years ago, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization said soil degradation was proceeding at such a rate that the world may only have 60 harvests left, noting that it takes up to 1,000 years to build 3 inches of topsoil.
Unless new approaches are adopted, the global amount of arable and productive land per person in 2050 will be only a quarter of the level in 1960, the FAO reported, due to growing population and soil degradation.
Just recently, the Sustainable Soils Alliance (SSA) alleged that the U.K. only spent 0.4% ($334,000) of its environmental monitoring budget on soil health monitoring in 2017-18, vs. $146 million for water and air monitoring. SSA says the U.K. may only have 100 harvests left as a country due to the consequences of intensive farming.
University of Washington geologist and soil health crusader David Montgomery notes the U.S. is losing soil 10 times faster than its replenishment rate. China and India are in even worse shape, losing soil 30-40 times faster. You can certainly argue about the validity of models and predictions, as they’re certainly not perfect. But even if harvests continue hundreds of years from now, working with degraded soil will reduce yields further, increase water needs, deplete aquifers, and create even more reliance on crop insurance and bailouts.
With all of the worry and panic buying of certain foodstuffs during the coronavirus outbreak, it seemed like people started appreciating access to basic needs like food again. Imagine the unrest if we didn’t have the protection of our farmers in the U.S. Perhaps, with the empty bread shelves, we got a little taste of what other countries have been dealing with for decades.
Rather than take these figures literally, I think the point is to understand that no-tillers need to keep telling their stories to the public and reinforcing the importance of our soil assets. And our lawmakers should consider enacting incentive-based policies that reward growers for protecting our soil resource rather than abusing it.
Our future generations are banking on us doing the right thing.