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When it Comes to Food – The Three Big Ominous Shadows Humanity Faces (Part 1 of 3)

Touch the Soil News # 161

An old wisdom says big future events cast big shadows in the present. This is not trying to predict the future, but simply looking at the shadows showing up on the paths humanity has elected to travel upon. If we don’t like the shadows, humanity can choose a different path if it so chooses.

One of the difficulties that arise when detecting big shadows is what to do about them. Since our readership is made up of folks with diverse backgrounds, experience and knowledge, we’ll just leave answering that question to our readers.

As we present the three dilemmas, we could not assess which one was the highest priority. Accordingly, the numerical sequence we present them in is not necessarily the order of their importance.

Ongoing soil tillage sends topsoils into oblivion

Ominous Shadow 1 – Loss of Topsoil

When talking to the good folks at Kelp4Less, the fact arose that soil does not like to be uncovered. Nature is always trying to cover soil with something – even if it’s just weeds. The forests, prairies and wetlands are a testament to nature’s plan of protection. So is there a lesson here to the world’s agricultural practices?

A popular image of farming is a tractor pulling a plow across the land and uncovering the soil – something nature would never do. Once the soil is uncovered it is subject to two extreme risks: 1) Erosion by wind. 2) Erosion by water.

Without topsoil, abundant plant life is not possible. Estimates are the United States loses almost 3 tons of topsoil per acre per year. Some experts estimate that on current trends, the world has about 60 years of topsoil left. To replace one inch of topsoil can take between 500 to 1,000 years. This leads to one of the greatest dilemmas in modern human history – modern farming (tillage) practices represent one of the greatest threats to food and food production.

Annual topsoil loss in the U.S. is equivalent to 17 million rail cars filled with soil.

According to the American Farmland Trust, 1.7 billion tons of topsoil is lost to erosion each year in the U.S. For perspective, a typical railroad box car holds about 100 tons of cargo. So, the next time you’re counting the cars a train is pulling, think about a train pulling 17 million cars. That is the number of box cars full of topsoil that is lost each year. And oh, by the way, that train would be 178 thousand miles long – a distance equal to 7.5 times around the equator. If the train were traveling 50 miles an hour, you would be waiting at the railroad crossing for about 150 days – 24 hours a day.

The five largest states in terms of topsoil loss are:
1) Texas – 225 million tons
2) Iowa – 147 million tons
3) Minnesota – 140 million tons
4) North Dakota – 133 million tons
5) Kansas – 102 million tons

The nation (and world) has already identified this ominous shadow – as efforts for no-till farming have already surfaced. The issue is that no-till is not in the political debates, and the present speed of no-till adoption is not sufficiently arresting the growing shadow of topsoil loss.

Following is a soil erosion lesson for children that makes all the main points simple.

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