As we come to the close of the 2015 International Year of the Soils, there is no time better to reflect on the importance of soils for all Hoosiers than this weekend, when we celebrate World Soil Day.
“Some of the best, most productive soils in the world are found in Indiana,” said Jane Hardisty, State Conservationist for USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). “It’s important for us to realize that our soil is a limited resource and more importantly it is alive, which makes maintaining and improving it critical to meeting our future needs for food, water and energy security.”
Soil is one of our greatest natural resources and it plays a very important role in our lives every day. We build on the soil—our homes, businesses, schools, roads and farms all depend on it for their foundation. But more importantly, soil is the foundation for our food, feed, fiber, and fuel production. In fact, ninety-five percent all of our food comes from the soil.
The NRCS works every day with private landowners to help them conserve and protect our natural resources. Last year, Indiana’s soil scientists assisted more than 61,000 customers across the state benefiting more than 1,226,000 acres of land.
“But service and access to information doesn’t stop at the office,” said Gary Struben, Indiana’s State Soil Scientist. “NRCS has internet-based tools that provide soil data that anyone can use.”
According to Struben, the Web Soil Survey (WSS) http://websoilsurvey.nrcs.usda.gov/app/ provides on-line soils data that anyone can use – students, teachers, engineers, land use managers, farmers, anyone who wants to know more about their soils. WSS serves as the single authoritative source of soil survey information and provides access to the largest natural resource information system in the world.
Another tool for those that want to know more about the soil they are standing on is the SoilWeb App http://casoilresource.lawr.ucdavis.edu/soilweb/ which provides GPS based, real-time access to NRCS soil survey data, formatted for mobile devices.
More innovations are underway. Using technology such as LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) along with other soils data, NRCS’s soil scientists and geographic information specialists are developing new applications and finding ways to make the data more consistent across county and state boundaries.
Hardisty explains soil health, a relatively new concept that has farmers across the country changing the way they manage their land. “The soil is amazing! One teaspoon of healthy soil can contain a billion organisms such as bacteria and fungi, not to mention the multitudes of worms and other arthropods that live in the soil. These creatures build organic matter for a healthy soil,” she said.
Managing the land to improve soil health can be a big change for producers. Soil health practices include keeping the soil covered at all times with growing plants or residue, disturbing the soil as little as possible by using no-till, and using fertilizers and pesticides more efficiently. These simple changes can build water hold capacity, a better tolerance to weather extremes, increase productivity, and improve water quality. Treating the soil as a living organism will help us ensure a sustainable and productive future.
Nationally, NRCS has launched a campaign called Unlock the Secrets of the Soil. Indiana is leading the nation in the promotion of soil health and the number of producers that are giving soil health practices a try. To help spread the word about the benefits of soil health, NRCS works with other conservation partners in collaborative efforts like the Indiana’s Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative (CCSI) http://ccsin.iaswcd.org/.
“Everything changes when we realize soil is alive and start making decisions to support health soil,” concludes Hardisty. “The International Year of Soils campaign has brought focus to the importance of soil, and has inspired people across the world to take a second look at their soil, think about how it impacts their lives and how to take better care of it.”
So what are you waiting for? World Soil Day is December 5th and a great time to start giving this amazing resource the respect it deserves.
For more information about the International Year of Soils, visit: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/soils/yos/. For more information on World Soil Day, visit the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations at: http://www.fao.org/globalsoilpartnership/world-soil-day/en/. For more information about NRCS’s Unlock the Secrets of the Soil efforts visit: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/soils/health/.