This great, long essay on soil health has unusually blunt discussion of the implications of declining soil health. Molly Jahn, a professor of Agronomy at my alma mater UW-Madison, seamlessly merges insights from a helicopter ride outside Des Moines during planting season, to the early crusade to expose and end slavery among sugar plantation workers over a century ago. She wonders if mankind can end slavery, might reversing the decline in soil health someday come within reach? Surely that would be a good thing, and today is a good day to ponder steps needed to hasten the journey.
In her article, Jahn points out that mankind has inherently changed the very earth itself, with the organic matter content of soil in America 30 percent lower on average than when the first farmers began cultivating crops. When you factor in erosion and soil damage from agricultural practices, the damage is severe. Given that modern agriculture is laser-focused on maximizing yields, Jahn argues we must turn our attention to halting and mitigating soil damage.
Scientists at the UN estimate that more than half the world’s arable land is “moderately to severely” degraded, and these impaired soils are less drought-tolerant and impact productivity. Jahn points out that while some farmers in the US are using cover crops, no-till farming, and other practices that reduce soil damage, there is much that still needs to be done to reverse the damage to the earth’s skin, and the foundation of our agricultural system.
Molly Jahn, “Thanksgiving 2050: To feed the world we have to stop destroying our soil,” November 23, 2016, Christian Science Monitor