Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

December 12, 2013

JANE HARDISTY: Long live the soil

Let's all salute the natural resource that sustains us.


Kokomo Tribune

---- — Too often, it’s treated like dirt.

But last week our living and life-giving soil finally got some of the respect it deserves as the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization celebrated World Soil Day on Dec. 5 in Rome. Under the framework of the Global Soil Partnership, the event is held each year with the goal of raising awareness of the importance of healthy soils for food security, ecosystem functions and sustainable development.

Those of us who work in agriculture and natural resource conservation understand that healthy soil is the foundation upon which our food and fiber production is based. That’s why it is important to bring attention to this celebration.

Understandably, it’s easy to take soil for granted because it’s mostly hidden from view — and few who live off the farm have reason to give it a second thought. Yet this amazing resource is responsible for nearly all life on the planet. Fortunately, scientists, conservationists and farmers are increasingly recognizing that keeping our soil healthy and functioning is the key to our survival.

Here in Indiana, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and our conservation partners are working directly with landowners to improve the health of the soil on our working lands. And by improving the health of the soil, we are also improving the health and vitality of our farms, families and communities.

This renewed focus on the health of our soil has created an exciting new revolution in American agriculture as farmers and other landowners are increasingly making their land more productive and sustainable through soil health management systems. Although all farming operations are different, most all can benefit from keeping the soil covered as much as possible; disturbing the soil as little as possible; keeping plants growing throughout the year to feed the soil; and diversifying plants as much as possible using crop rotation and cover crops.

By improving soil health, Indiana’s agricultural producers can harvest benefits on and off the farm, including increasing farmland sustainability and resilience; improving water and air quality; providing wildlife habitat; and reducing flooding.

World Soil Day reminds us all that we owe our existence to the soil. As we face the need to produce more food and fiber and are faced with climate and sustainability challenges, I believe there is no better time to work hand-in-hand with Hoosier farmers to improve the health of this critical living resource.

The promise of our future depends on it.

Jane Hardisty is state conservationist for the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.