Eighty years ago, in April 1935, an ominous wall of blowing sand and dust swept across the Great Plains caused by years of overplanting, poorly managed crops and severe drought conditions. During these massive storms, people were forced to crawl on hands and knees in search of shelter, literally unable to see their hands in front of their faces. Cars stalled and stopped in the choking dust. Many thought the end of the world had come.
In response to the Dust Bowl, Congress passed Public Law 74-46 on April 27, 1935, and recognized that “the wastage of soil and moisture resources on farm, grazing, and forest lands… is a menace to the national welfare.” The law established an agency, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly the Soil Conservation Service) to work directly with private landowners to protect and improve soil and other resources.
Earth Day is a great time for all of us to look back at how far we have come since that catastrophic event and take note of what we need to do next in our efforts to protect and manage this precious and nonrenewable resource—our soil.
Today we are still facing huge challenges with a changing physical environment. Levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose at a record-shattering pace last year. Severe droughts and flooding are becoming the norm. Our agricultural land base is shrinking. It’s estimated that in the next 40 years, producers will need to produce as much food as they have in the last 500 to feed the growing population. Around the world, farmers and whole communities will need to adapt to impacts from climate change, extreme weather events, and increasing population.
But there is good news. NRCS has the perfect solution to help people address many of these problems by helping them to manage the health of their soil.
You may be wondering how a little dirt can change the world. The fact is, healthy soils are a critical piece of mitigating impacts from weather extremes. They have a great water and nutrient holding capacity. In drought this can help ensure food, fuel and fiber production continues. In heavy rainfall, healthy soils can help avert flooding communities downstream and ensure soil and nutrients stay on the land and don’t end up in our rivers and streams. Most importantly, we are reliant on the health and vitality of our soils to grow nutritious food to feed our ever growing population. By helping farmers understand the importance of soil health we ensure farming operations continue and even thrive within this changing world.
This year we are celebrating the International Year of Soils. I can’t think of a better way to honor this living and nonrenewable resource than increasing the understanding of the importance soil plays in food security and essential ecosystem functions.
Earth Day is a perfect time to say a big thank you to the Indiana’s farmers, backyard gardeners and all of our conservationists who are doing their part to protect the soil to feed and clothe generations to come.
If you would like to learn more about improving the health of your soil stop by the NRCS office nearest you to talk to a district conservationist or go online to www.in.nrcs.usda.gov. To learn more about the International Year of Soils, please visit: http://www.fao.org/soils-2015/en/.
USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service helps America’s farmers conserve the nation’s soil, water, air and other natural resources. All programs are voluntary and offer science-based solutions that benefit both the landowner and the environment. To learn more about NRCS and what we do go visit www.in.nrcs.usda.gov/ Follow us on https://twitter.com/IndianaNRCS.