A Moment of Science

Disappearing Soil

Did you know that twenty-four billion tons of soil is lost to erosion every year? Learn more on this Moment of Science.

Plowed field during day

Photo: John Wesley Barker (flickr)

Plowed fields like this one in England contribute to the problem of erosion

Did you know that twenty-four billion tons of soil is lost to erosion every year?

When farmers plow their fields they leave the soil bare and exposed to the elements. As a result, wind and rain can pretty easily sweep soil away into rivers and lakes.

Some geologists call soil erosion one of the fundamental problems of civilization. Without enough soil we can’t grow food, and without food, we can’t live.

There are alternative ways to farm that don’t involve plowing. One is called no-till farming. Basically, instead of plowing a field, farmers plant new crops down through the residue left over from previous crops. The left-over stalks and cutting act like an organic blanket protecting the soil from runoff. Of course, no-till farming also leaves more weeds, which requires farmers to use more herbicide, so there is a tradeoff.

That’s why some experts say that the best way to save soil and protect the environment is to combine no-till agriculture with organic farming.

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