The Importance of Dirt

This Post is Prepared by Donnie Dann

The four absolute essentials to all life on earth — plant and animal — are sun, air, water and soil. There’s a general recognition of the importance of the first three, but we more or less take for granted the fourth: “dirt”, or more accurately soil. Soil is found throughout the seven continents, including the lake and stream beds underlying bodies of water, and is critical to life. We grow crops, build buildings, roads and all kinds of structures on soil, but unless we’re gardeners or in some way involved in agriculture, we pay almost no mind to it.
Yet from the Soil Science Society of America we learn that “a handful of soil has more living organisms than there are people on planet Earth.”
Just a few things that soil does:
  • Provides nutrition for the food we eat, both plant and animal.
  • Aids in nutrient recycling.
  • Generates biodiversity and supplies vital habitat for a multitude of species.
  • Improves our air quality and purifies our water.
  • Nurtures trees and other plants that are essential in nature’s food chain.
  • Limits erosion and provides flood control.
  • Is a storehouse of archeological wonders.
Soil is created by the decomposition of organic and inorganic matter, and it takes some 2,000 years to form just four inches or so of topsoil. Yet our soil is in trouble.
Threats to Soil:
  • In the early 1930s, unremitting strong winds, a severe drought and poor farming methods gave us the dust bowl and the loss of more than 100,000,000 acres of topsoil, primarily in Texas and Oklahoma. One lesson from that time is that unplowed native prairies, with their deep-rooted grasses, anchored the soil and withstood the ravages of the disaster.
  • Today, continuing soil degradation or actual loss of soil occurs through a variety of causes, including continued harmful land use practices, urbanization, erosion, land and water pollution, compaction by heavy farm equipment, cattle and other livestock, and especially intensive use of synthetic fertilizers.
  • Unlike compost, which slowly feeds soil the nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium that it requires, synthetic fertilizers “acidify soil with long-term use, rendering it inhospitable for microbial life.”
What you can do:
Healthy soil is critical to life, and every effort should be made to keep it as nature intended. We can all start by protecting the soil in our own homes. Use compost instead of dousing your lawn with synthetics. Better yet, replace your turf-grass with native plants that do fine without any fertilizer. Buying organic is the wisest choice in so many respects, including maintaining life-giving soil.
Finally, Congress is reauthorizing the Farm Bill in 2018. Ask your elected officials to support conservation programs that ensure cost-effective financial assistance to farmers for improved soil health.
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