Why soil is very important to future human existence?

A sample of soil in a hand.

Occupants of skyscrapers and apartment houses towering above asphalt and concrete corridors of large cities seldom see it.

Single-home urbanites with small lawns, front and back, pay little attention to it.

To those who live in suburbia, it is a dirty nuisance when it is tracked into their homes.

It is different things to different people.

Boys dig in it.

Little girls make mud pies with it.

Mothers abhor it.

Washing-machine manufacturers make windfall profits because of it.

Bulldozer operators make their living moving it.

Farmers plow it, cultivate it, and plant it.

It is used as a dumping ground for poisonous chemicals, rendering it useless for generations to come.

When we expire, we are buried in it.

Abusing the earth soil resource

Furrows dug in readiness for planting.

Of all earth’s most precious resources, none are so much abused, misused, and taken for granted as is our soil.

Defying all wisdom, it has been overplowed, overplanted, overfertilized, overpolluted.

Pioneers and settlers moving into new territories bought land cheap.

They stripped it of its trees and much of its vegetation as they plowed straight furrows up and down the hills and planted their seed.

Then the rains came, and the plowed furrows turned into watercourses that became great gullies scarring the land, taking the topsoil to the riverbeds and, in time, out to sea.

When there was no more good land, they moved on, and with their stubborn genius for not learning from their mistakes, an endless cycle of ruined land was left in their wake.

Meanwhile, the settlers kept coming, plowing topsoil too thin to plant.

Within a generation the land was ruined.

Cattlemen let their teeming herds graze the uncultivated land to a barren waste.

Next came the droughts.

The eroding soil, the barren land, and the blowing winds brought on the great dust bowls

The dust blew in clouds thousands of feet in the air, from horizon to horizon.

It came through the cracks around the doors and windows.

It piled in high drifts in the streets and fields, covering sheds, tractors, and farm equipment.

Millions of acres of farmland were destroyed by soil erosion.

Precious topsoil, just one inch (2.5 cm) of which experts say can take several hundred years to build, was now, in a matter of a few months, gone with the water and the wind.

Finally, some did learn from their mistakes.

National soil conservation systems were established to help the farmers save their land from erosion.

Contour plowing was introduced.

Deep furrows were cut that ran around the slope of the land instead of up and down the hills.

This method enabled the water to collect in the troughs and soak into the ground rather than letting it run off and carry the topsoil with it.

Conservation workers went up and down the land showing farmers the need for contour plowing and thereby saved millions of acres of topsoil from being lost.

Was this, however, the panacea needed to arrest this cancerous erosion of the earth’s soil?

What about the lesson learned a half century ago—time-tested contour plowing and windbreaks that prevent water runoff?

Sadly, in order to keep up with the demand from foreign markets for grain farmers were encouraged to plow from “fencerow to fencerow.”

Straightaway they responded by maximizing their grain production, and throwing all caution to the winds, they bulldozed erosion terraces and rows of trees that served as windbreaks and held the soil in check.

They plowed unusable land and up and down hills and abandoned crop rotation—a proved method of soil retention.

Indeed, the farmers realized a bumper crop of grain production and with it came a greater farm income.

But, alas, offsetting the handsome profits were the lamentations that went up from the same farmers when they realized that their farms were eroding away, by many tons to the acre.

The National Wildlife magazine writes: 

The consequences of such actions could be enormous in the years ahead. Ours is already a hungry world. If, as the experts believe, one-third of the earth’s cropland is eroding faster than nature can replace the soil, we are losing productivity. We may cultivate the same number of acres, but as the soil gets thinner, we will harvest less food from it.”

What Soil Loss Means for You

Holding a seedling with it's soil in the hand.

Whether you live in a bustling metropolis or on a farm, you will indeed pay the price for the loss of soil.

If we are interested in food prices at the end of the century, we should be looking at soil erosion rates today.

The less soil we have, the more food will cost.

As the earth’s inhabitants move steadily closer to 8 billion and the population pressure explodes on the land, the soil will inexorably disappear.

In China, for example, where the loss of cropland is a mounting problem, authorities are now trying to conserve land by encouraging cremation instead of interment in the traditional burial mounds seen throughout the countryside.

In this crowded country the living compete with the dead for land.

In countries where population is exploding with staggering soil loss, the results can be catastrophic.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Africa, where grain production is on a drastic decline and famine is an ever-present threat.

Africa was essentially self-sufficient in food production in the 1970's.

Now however, millions of people from the continent are fed with grain from abroad.

Conditions are expected to worsen in the years to come.

It is estimated that a third of the world’s population, live in countries where cropland and soil are rapidly dwindling.

It seems incredible that something as basic as the very soil on which we stand should be disappearing at such a rate that by the end of the century there will be 32 per cent less per person than there is at present.

As our soil and cropland go with the wind and the rain, the world will find it increasingly harder to feed its exploding population.

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