Conservation Message Continues to be Relevant
Posted: September 11, 2012
It was a huge blow to our national pride and reminded us that we are always living under the threat of war. But there are more threats that loom large as the human footprint grows larger and larger. We are putting more and more pressure on our natural resources, and although we feel confident that some new discovery or technique will enable us to squeeze a little more out of planet earth, we may cause irreparable loss. The soil is one resource that we agriculturalists need to continue to care for. We are quick to forget the tremendous soil degradation that U.S. farmers caused in our past. In a book on the agricultural regions of the U.S., Haystead and Fite (University of Oklahoma, 1956) tell us that 'Before World War II, we stood arraigned as the most wasteful people in all history. Nowhere else, except in the fabled Garden of Eden, had people taken such a rich, virgin territory and in a short three centuries ruined large parts of it for all time and semi-destroyed other parts, while busily trying to do away with the rest. We were not husbandmen in the best sense of the word. We were miners." Corn has traditionally been known as a crop that is 'hard on the soil'. Thankfully, with no-tillage practices we have been able to turn that around and are able to plant corn on highly erodible lands protected by a blanket of mulch. However, not tilling is not enough. As corn silage is removed from the fields the soil is unprotected. To protect these fields it is necessary to plant a cover crop, which fortuitously can even serve as fodder for our ruminant animals. After soybean harvest we are also left with a low level of protection, necessitating the planting of a cover that will protect the soil after the easily degraded soybean residue is gone. After small grain harvest the field is expected to be 'sitting idle' for almost 10 months, devoid of a living root system that stimulates aggregation and provides cover of above-ground biomass. The U.S. taxpayer has invested large sums in helping take Highly Erodible Lands out of production by financing the CRP program. With high crop prices farmers are enticed to put these fields back into production after the contract is expired. Looking a little rough, the first thought is to pull out the plow to smooth these fields out and prepare the land for the next crop. We forget however, that these lands are highly sensitive to degradation (especially in the hurricane season that is not over yet). The benefits of those years of fallow can be conserved by no-tilling into this sod instead of turning the soil. The demands to produce are tremendous, but let us not meet immediate needs by mining the soil and thus destroying opportunities for future generations.
- Associate Professor of Soil Management and Applied Soil Physics