Improving Soil Health with Native Grasses and Forbs

Healthy soil is a critical component for life on this planet. Not only does it grow our plants and crops, but it absorbs rainfall, decomposes organisms and waste, and stores over 4 trillion tons of carbon. Forests, by comparison, only store around 360 billion tons (learn more about the importance of carbon sequestration here.) 

Though soil is often viewed as an unlimited, renewable resource, that’s not really the case, especially for the fertile topsoil that’s so vital for crop health and carbon storage. 

Each year, approximately 24 billion tons of fertile soil are lost to erosion. It takes approximately 500 years for 1 inch of new topsoil to form naturallyMeanwhile, the world’s population grows over 1% (currently 82 million people) per year. More people require more food which requires more land and healthy soil to meet the demands. 

In other words, we are losing soil, and we need to protect and nurture what we have. 

Where is All the Good Soil Going? 

There are a number of factors that contribute to soil loss and degradation. Urban expansion has played a large part in the removal of fertile farmlands, though modern city planning is doing a better job of integrating grass, trees, and more.  

Flooding is another issue. Modern underground infrastructures have created impenetrable ground surfaces, preventing water from properly sinking into the earth. Flooding leads to runoff, leaving excess dirt in rivers, streams, and lakes, which then contributes to more flooding. 

Finally, modern farming techniques have proven harmful to soil over time. Growing the same crops year over year depletes soil of its nutrients, leaving it damaged. Certain pesticides can harm soil too. Damaged soil doesn’t absorb water as well, which can cause even more flooding. 

Some farmers may install drainage to deal with the flooding, but that doesn’t help with soil health. They may then try to compensate for that with excess fertilizer, but this is a temporary solution that can actually cause more harm in the long run.  

Soil health will continue to weaken. And should flooding and water runoff continue, the chemicals from the extra fertilizer will end up in rivers, lakes, and other water supplies, causing contamination. To return health to soil while maintaining balance in the surrounding ecosystem, a more natural approach is needed. 

Using Native Perennial Vegetation to Improve Soil Health 

Unlike traditional crops, perennial vegetation such as native grasses and forbs can restore health to soil. These plants provide dense coverage, protecting the topsoil from wind, rain, and the sun.  

Native grasses and forbs also build deeper, more expansive root systems, which keeps the topsoil from being drained of its nutrients.  

Since they’re perennial vegetation, the soil is allowed to rest and rejuvenate as the plants grow. Tilling itself can be a damaging process, loosening and scattering soil, causing it to be blown and washed away. With native grasses and forbs, soil health can be restored. 

This doesn’t just help the specific acres where the native vegetation was planted, it also provides numerous benefits to the surrounding ecosystem. 

Best of all, by enrolling in programs such as CRP or CREP, farmers and landowners can be paid by the government to take sensitive land out of active production and establish native grasses and forbs. It’s a scenario where everyone wins, from the landowner to the planet as a whole. 

And with FDCE, it’s never been easier. We’ll handle the entire establishment process for you, from selecting and buying the CRP seed mixes to submitting the final reporting and cost share paperwork to both you and FSA.  

Contact us today, and together, we can help restore health to our soils.