Integrating Diverse Cropping, Livestock & Grazing Key to Developing ‘Soil Smart’ Farms
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — At a time of skyrocketing water pollution levels and increasing climate-related calamities, a new resource released today describes how farmers in Minnesota and the rest of the Midwest can play a key role in helping fix these serious environmental problems. The Land Stewardship Project’s Soil Health, Water & Climate Change: A Pocket Guide to What You Need to Know provides an introduction to the latest innovations in science and farming related to building soil health, and how implementing such practices on a wide-scale basis can make agriculture a powerful force for creating a landscape that is good for our water and our climate.
The pocket guide includes mini-profiles of farmers in the region who are utilizing cover cropping, managed rotational grazing of livestock, no-till and other methods to protect the landscape’s surface while increasing biological activity below, thus creating a resilient, “soil smart” type of agriculture. The key to these farmers’ success is their ability to build soil organic matter, a resource that can sequester an immense amount of carbon while increasing the land’s ability to efficiently manage precipitation and runoff.
“It turns out the twin problems of polluted water and climate change share a common solution: the building of soil organic matter, which makes up just 5 percent of the soil profile but controls 90 percent of its functions,” said guide author Brian DeVore, who has interviewed dozens of farmers, scientists and conservation experts that are part of recent efforts to build and maintain functional biological activity in soil. “We have farmers right here in the Midwest who are proving you can build organic matter in a matter of years using practical, financially viable methods. It’s an exciting time for agriculture.”
Utilizing easy-to-understand graphics and summaries, this pocket guide shows how building soil organic matter can sequester massive amounts of greenhouse gases. Combined with energy conservation and alternative energy sources, making agricultural soils a net carbon sink could play a major role in helping prevent disastrous changes to the climate. In addition, healthy, biologically active soil has been shown to dramatically cut erosion levels, as well as the amount of farmland fertilizer and other chemicals flowing into our rivers, streams and lakes.
• Some farmers have doubled their soil organic matter in less than 10 years. Scientists long thought that such a change in organic matter could not be brought about in a typical lifetime.
• The potential for soil to store carbon is tremendous. When soil organic matter levels were higher than they are today, the land held much more carbon; it could do so once again, according to scientists. One estimate is that 5 percent to 15 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions could be sequestered by building organic matter utilizing soil smart farming practices.
• One soil-friendly farming method, cover cropping, has the potential to reduce nutrient and pesticide runoff by 50 percent or more, slash erosion by 90 percent, reduce the amount of soil sediments in water by 75 percent and cut pathogen contamination in water by 60 percent.
• During the 2017 growing season alone, several farmers in the region reported that their efforts to build healthier soils paid off when their fields resisted severe erosion, flooding and runoff during torrential rains.
“This is practical, on-the-ground stuff,” said DeVore. “Farmers are proving they can get real results, and scientists and conservationists are helping to lead the way. In fact, it’s becoming clear that without healthier soils, other efforts to clean up our water and mitigate climate change will fall far short of the goals we need to meet in order to maintain sustainable communities and a sustainable planet.”
Soil Health, Water & Climate Change: A Pocket Guide to What You Need to Know is available as a pdf and online mobile app at https://landstewardshipproject.org/smartsoil. Free paper copies are available from the Land Stewardship Project’s offices in Lewiston (507-523-3366), Montevideo (320-269-2105) or Minneapolis (612-722-6377).