How to Hold on to Your Soil for Millennia

how hold soil

For most farmers, soil erosion is a fact of life, and we’ve all heard the alarming projections of how soon the world’s most productive agricultural soils will become unfarmable.

But what if there was a way to keep that soil on the land for five thousand years instead of just the next fifty?

Better yet – what if that way was already being practiced on 40% of cropland across the Midwest?

It turns out that that’s exactly the case. Recent research has shown that if a couple of already common conservation practices – no-till, and cover cropping – were expanded to cover 100% of farmland, the nation’s soil resource, instead of eroding away over the next couple of centuries, would be secure for thousands of years to come.

A 2020 study measured soil erosion rates on agricultural lands worldwide. On a third of conventionally tilled fields, it found erosion rates high enough to completely remove the topsoil in 200 years. However, where practices like no-till, contour plowing, and cover cropping were in use, topsoil was projected to last for five to ten thousand years.

Earlier this year, another study focused on the U.S. Midwest put specific numbers on those rates. Under conventional tillage, researchers predicted a loss of nearly 9 billion metric tons of soil over the next century. That’s with conservation practices already in place on 40% of the acreage.

However, if conservation practices were expanded to 100% of the acreage, the next century’s soil losses would drop by 95%.

No-till and cover cropping usually get press for their short-term benefits to soil health – which are real, and important. As this research shows, though, those benefits extend much farther.

Tag(s): cover crops

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