The world is facing a soil crisis, and the US is no exception. More than 50% of America’s topsoil has eroded away. If this continues, we could run out of usable solid in as little as 60 years. Since it takes 500 years to form just 1 inch of topsoil, we don’t have any choice but to protect the soil we still have.
The question, how can we do that?
It starts with implementing more sustainable methods of farming. The act of farming naturally takes a toll on soil. Many of the crops we grow aren’t even native to America, which can further drain soil of nutrients. Meanwhile, the continued loss of natural buffers and reliance on synthetic chemicals has left soil increasingly exposed and weakened.
However, the farming industry is learning that it’s possible to protect soil and the surrounding environment while still generating a profit. In fact, by incorporating the right changes and strategies, farmers can potentially increase profits and reduce labor while restoring health to their lands.
Reducing (or Eliminating Tillage)
Tillage has long been used to prepare fields for planting. Not only does it bury crop residue, level soil, and activate pesticides, but it greatly helps with weed control as well. However, tillage starts to take a toll on soil health after a while.
First and foremost, tilling disrupts soil structure. This makes it more vulnerable to wind, runoff, and general erosion. Burying and eliminating crop residue actually causes further destabilization and exposure. Left unchecked, aggressive tillage can result in a total breakdown of soil structure.
By implementing no-till or reduced till-farming, farmers can improve microbial activity, increase soil absorption, and strengthen overall health and structure. Best of all, once implemented, no-till and reduced-till farming actually requires less work overall.
Reducing Fertilizer Use
There’s no doubt that nitrogen-heavy fertilizers can add a boost to crops, at least initially. The trouble is, synthetic fertilizers are generally a band-aid solution to an underlying issue. They provide nitrates temporarily without improving soil’s ability to create or store nitrates. Recent studies show they might actually cause further harm soil over time.
By reducing fertilizer use and focusing on other actions that actually improve soil health, farmers can prolong the life of their soil, protect local water supplies from nitrate pollutions, and potentially save money.
Establishing Buffers and Barriers
A large part of why erosion is such a problem is because urban and agricultural expansion have eliminated much of our nature’s buffers and barriers. The loss of forests and native grass plains leaves farm fields unprotected against wind and water runoff.
By restoring buffers and natural habitats, farmers can reduce erosion while also restoring health to the surrounding soil. Of course, establishing these environments can be pricey and time consuming. Thankfully, there’s a way that farmers can go about it while still earning a profit.
Enrolling Land in CRP
The Conservation Reserve Program provides farmers with market-based rental payments in exchange for taking damaged land out of active production and establishing native vegetation. This protects and restores health to the soil while reducing the need for tillage and synthetic fertilizers. CRP land also provides a natural buffer against wind and rain.
By establishing pollinator habitat under CRP, farmers can also enjoy the boost in crop yields that comes with increased pollinator presence.
If you don’t want to take an entire plot of land out of production, there’s the CP-43 Prairie Strip practice. Under CP-43, contract holders establish prairie strips that are integrated within traditional crop fields. These add an effective buffer against the elements while still improving soil health and providing.
By converting just 10% of a field into native prairie strips, farmers can expect to see:
- 44% reduction in water runoff
- 95% reduction in soil loss
- 90% reduction in phosphorus runoff
- 84% reduction in nitrate-nitrogen runoff
With CP-43, farmers are able to convert as much as 25% of their farm into native vegetation, placing the strips wherever they believe they’ll be most effective.
If you’re interested in joining CRP, we can help. FDCE provides full-service CRP solutions that makes establishment simple and straightforward. Once you’re enrolled in a CP, we’ll handle the seed purchasing, planting, herbicide application, and reporting. Thanks to CRP’s cost-share reimbursement, our services practically pay for themselves.
To get started, contact us today!