Originally published June 17 2008
Vanishing Topsoil Threatens Sustainability of Human Life on Earth
by David Gutierrez, staff writer
(NaturalNews) Earth's topsoil is vanishing at such a rapid rate that scientists worry about the future of human food production.
"Globally, it's clear we are eroding soils at a rate much faster than they can form," said John Reganold, a soils scientist from Washington State University. "It's hard to get people to pay much attention to this because, frankly, most of us take soil for granted."
The Earth is covered with an average of only three feet of topsoil, the layer of dirt that provides the nutrients for most of the planet's land vegetation, and is critical for producing food from agriculture. Healthy topsoil is a home to billions of beneficial microorganisms per handful, in addition to nutrients, fungi and worms that are critical to healthy plant life. But it forms very slowly, at a rate of only an inch or two per several hundred years. And around the world, topsoil is vanishing much faster than it forms.
"The estimate is that we are now losing about 1 percent of our topsoil every year to erosion, most of this caused by agriculture," said David Montgomery, a geologist at the University of Washington and the author of the book "Dirt."
The National Academy of Sciences estimates that U.S. cropland is eroding at 10 times the rate that it forms, and the United Nations has warned that soil degradation is a global crisis.
Pollution, changing weather patterns and paving over cropland for development are all significant contributors to topsoil loss. But according to Reganold, the major culprit is modern agriculture practices.
According to fifth-generation grain farmer John Aeschliman, tilling farmland between plantings is an unnecessary and destructive practice that leaves the soil vulnerable to washing away when the rain comes. Aeschliman advocates and practices "no-till" farming, which involves planting the seeds of his most recent crop amidst the stubble of previous years'.
"This soil is full of worms, bacteria and all sorts of life," Aeschliman said of his own field. "And it stays put."
"That stuff over there," he said, gesturing to a neighbor's field, "is just powder, brown dust. It's dead. There's no worms, no life in it."
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