Soil isn’t dirt. Good, healthy soil is a living natural resource essential to farming and food production. Illinois farmland is among the best in the world because it used to be nutrient-rich, wetland prairie habitat. However, unlike prairie, agricultural fields typically contain a protective cover of plants for only about half of the year, and the rest of the time bare soil is exposed to the elements and erodes into rivers and lakes during rainfalls and snowmelt, taking with it remaining fertilizer nutrients. Even during the growing season, soil loss is greater from agricultural fields than natural land cover. This erosion of land into water results in the sedimentation of our waterways, which means that fish have fewer places to spawn and rivers have less capacity to store water.
The Problem: Soil Degradation & Water Pollution
Current, wide scale use of conventional farming practices is stripping Illinois farmland of its vital, rich soil. Nutrient loss from the soil due to runoff and erosion means less nutrients available for plant intake. The nutrient runoff ends up in rivers, lakes, drinking water supplies, and finally oceans. With concerns about the growing hypoxia dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, agriculture is stepping up to find new ways to evaluate and address the impacts of nitrogen and phosphorus loss. Research on farm trials indicates soil health and capturing water runoff are significant parts of the answer. Supporting active microbial life in the soil and diversity on the landscape can improve the value and sustainability of your farm while ensuring that aquatic life thrives in nearby streams and lakes and drinking water supplies are safe and secure. And the good news is that enrolling in conservation practices for erosion control and wildlife habitat, using cover crops in the planting rotation to enhance soils and capture nutrients, and spring fertilizer application can all help reduce costs and boost profitability.
The Solution: Farming Practices that Protect Soil Health & Water
Curtailing nutrient loss is one way to help protect soil health, farmers, and our water because nutrient loss is both costly to farm operations and damaging to water supplies.
By farming using soil health principles and systems that include no-till, cover cropping and diverse rotations, more and more farmers are actually increasing their soil’s organic matter and improving microbial activity. As a result, farmers are sequestering more carbon, increasing water infiltration, improving wildlife and pollinator habitat—all while harvesting better profits and often better yields. – http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/soils/health/
Prairie Rivers Network are active partners with the Soil and Water Conservation Districts, conservation groups and agriculture producer groups to encourage adoption of conservation best management practices by Illinois farmers. Conservation practices, like cover crops, that protect and retain soil and its nutrients on farm fields – a farm’s most important asset – also benefit wildlife and protect water, which benefits us all.