Too often, agriculturists see only the effects, while the actual causes of the crisis grow worse and more complicated. Yet we must recognize our agricultural problems—their causes—and CORRECT THEM.
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This article is excerpted from the book Mounting Worldwide Crisis in Agriculture by Dale L. Schurter. Subsequent installments will appear in The Real Truth over the coming months.
Today’s agriculture is in deep trouble. It faces a crisis that even now affects the cost and quality of the food eaten in every corner of the world.
Famine and disease have become a reality for the poor, “have not” areas of the world. But few are aware that an agricultural crisis of equal—and greater—magnitude looms on the horizon for the third of the world we call the “have” nations.
The United States, Canada, Western Europe, Australia, South Africa, and the other “have” regions have been dazzled by the storybook pronouncements of “scientific agriculture.” We who live in such areas have become accustomed to talk of “burdensome surpluses,” and, while others were going hungry, came to believe we were immune to a food crisis.
More than 40 years ago, this organization’s predecessor published a booklet with a similar title to this one predicting that the growing crisis in agriculture then, if not seriously addressed on a large scale, could and would begin to adversely affect more affluent countries. At the time, we stated, “In the very near future, the growing crisis in agriculture could easily cause YOU to be numbered among the seriously sick and diseased—or among those hapless millions who go to bed at night with empty, aching stomachs.”
True to what we said, this is coming to pass with increasing numbers of people now suffering illness as a result. Also, disease and death rates in livestock, poultry and crop industries are increasing, with many elements of production becoming critical. A genuine crisis has developed in agriculture worldwide, including in the United States. World food shortage is no longer a prophecy but a reality, and one that will greatly worsen unless wholesale changes occur in our approach and attitude toward agriculture and its approach to food production.
And this does not even take into account the shocking fact that arable land is disappearing by millions of acres per year!
The United States is an alarming example of vanishing rural land. According to American Farmland Trust, more than one acre of farmland was lost per minute, with more than four million acres of agricultural land—an area the size of Massachusetts—disappearing from 2002 to 2007 as a result of homes and urban sprawl. During a 25-year period, the population grew 30 percent while land converted for urban use increased 57 percent. And this is only in the United States!
According to The World Factbook, “The planet’s population continues to explode: from 1 billion in 1820, to 2 billion in 1930, 3 billion in 1960, 4 billion in 1974, 5 billion in 1987, 6 billion in 1999.” In October 2011, the world’s population passed the seven billion mark! At last calculation, the world’s arable land is a little over 10 percent.
While cultivable land areas are “shrinking,” BBC reported that the United Nations expects that at present, “Food production will have to increase by 70% over the next 40 years to feed the world’s growing population…”
Even simply maintaining current food production is unpromising. The world depends heavily on United States exports, along with products from Eastern European countries and those situated on the Black Sea. IRIN, the United Nations news service, reported that in the beginning of 2012, the U.S. “planted more than 39 million hectares of maize [corn], 5 percent more than in 2011, making it the highest acreage under maize in the last 75 years.”
It also stated that the “third largest soybean crop ever was put in.”
But this made no difference as “record high temperatures and poor rainfall—less than 50 percent of normal precipitation in the corn-belt, a group of Midwestern US states where maize is traditionally grown—wilted most of the standing maize. In the past few weeks [of June], just when the plants needed moisture in the crucial pollination phase, there was little or none. ‘Irrigating this scale of farms is out of question—we would need to empty an ocean,’ said [Abdolreza] Abbassian [secretary of the Intergovernmental Group on Grains for the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization].
“The USDA announced [in July 2012] that only 48 percent of crops were in a ‘good to excellent’ condition, down from 72 percent at the beginning of June. This is the worst good to excellent rating since 1988, said the department, when 23 percent of crops were given a good to excellent rating…The projections for soybeans have also been reduced by eight percent—the lowest level since 2003” (ibid.).
As a result, The Associated Press reported that “a number of farmers in the hardest hit areas of the Midwest have cut down their crops just midway through the growing season.”
On top of this, Reuters showed that grain exports for 2012 from Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan “could be at least 35 million tonnes less than in 2011,” and in 2012 Morocco’s “cereals crop fell from 8.4 million tonnes in 2011 to 5.1 million tonnes.”
For the first time ever, there is no new, rich agricultural land that man can use. The deforestation of the Amazon Basin and rainforest areas of many other countries of the world continues, but good crop production on these soils is usually short-lived, followed by a reduction of rain.
According to the film “Food or Famine,” in 1850, Earth’s land area, if equally distributed, was about 33 acres per person; in 1900, it was 24 acres; by 1950, it had dropped to 15 acres; in 1974, it was 10 acres. Given today’s most recent statistics, it is NOW only five acres.
But that is not all! Of these five acres, approximately one and a half are desert—and too dry for production. Another one acre represents the arctic and polar regions—meaning it is too cold. Yet another acre is jungle and tropical forest, which is too wet for production. The additional one acre is mountainous—too high and steep. This leaves only a half-acre of land per person suitable for cultivation. And—you guessed it—half of this remaining half acre has already been depleted by previous generations—wasted by erosion because of improper tillage, monoculture and other poor management practices.
What about the remaining one-fourth of an acre?
No matter who you are or where you live, you must eat food to continue your physical existence.
Ultimately ALL your food comes directly or indirectly from the soil and, more specifically, from the top few inches known as topsoil.
Author Karl B. Mickey wrote in Man and the Soil that this life-sustaining topsoil “lies in a thin layer of an average depth of seven or eight inches over the face of the land.” In some few areas, it may be as deep as two feet or more, but in many others it is considerably less than seven inches.
“If that layer of topsoil could be represented on a 24-inch globe it would be as a film three-millionths of one inch thick,” Mr. Mickey wrote. “That thin film is all that stands between man and extinction.”
This thin layer of earth sustains ALL PLANT, ANIMAL AND HUMAN LIFE upon it!
Previous civilizations have already destroyed much of the topsoil, and today we are depleting what remains more rapidly than at any other time in history.
The story of mankind’s interaction with the land is long, complicated and brimming with lessons—most instructive in what not to do.
In the journal BioScience, Dr. Lamont C. Cole compared the leading aforetime civilizations to their modern counterparts.
“The valley of the Nile was [a great] cradle of civilization. Every year, the river overflowed its banks at a predictable time, bringing water to the land and depositing a layer of silt rich in mineral nutrients for plants.
“Crops could be grown for 7 months each year. Extensive irrigation systems were established before 2000 BC. This land was the granary of the Roman Empire, and this type of agriculture flourished for another 2,000 years.
“But the population has continued to grow and economic considerations have diverted land from growing food to growing cash crops such as cotton.”
In 1902, in an effort to promote year-round irrigation, the Aswan Low Dam was constructed in the southern part of the country. But it proved to have an inadequate reservoir area. After almost overflowing in 1946, the Aswan High Dam was constructed in 1970 to further contain the water.
While the dam has irrigated hundreds of thousands of acres, the soil has been deteriorating through salinization, a process that increases soil’s salt content. In addition, the productivity of its riverside lands has decreased—proving to be a disaster for Egypt. Any plusses accorded the dam have been far outweighed by the creation of serious problems. Aside from salinization, “population growth has virtually destroyed any possibility that…agricultural land can significantly raise the average level of nutrition.”
The Sahara Desert was once forested and inhabited. “The glories of ancient Mali and Ghana in west Africa were legends in medieval Europe. Ancient Greece had forested hills, ample water, and productive soils” (ibid.).
Today, less than 10 percent of land in modern Iraq—site of the Tigris and Euphrates valleys—is cultivated. Dr. Cole wrote, “The landscape is dotted with mounds representing forgotten towns, the ancient irrigation works are filled with silt, the end product of soil erosion [the oldest and biggest polluter in history], and the ancient seaport of Ur is now 150 miles from the sea with its old buildings buried under [several] feet of silt…Similar conditions prevail in Iran which was once the seat of the…Persian Empire…” (emphasis added).
Yet the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates had at one time supported some of the greatest civilizations. With a complex irrigation system built using its flood plain, these rivers produced the fertile soil that nourished the Sumerian and Babylonian empires.
“Herodotus tells us that this country was one of the greatest for the production of grain, yielding returns as high as two hundred fold or even three hundred fold in exceptional years,” Milton Whitney wrote in Soil and Civilization.
Citing Conquest of the Land Through Seven Thousand Years, Dr. Cole stated in BioScience that “old Roman roads [in Lebanon] which have prevented erosion of the soil beneath them now stand several feet above the rock desert. But in a churchyard that had been protected from goats for 300 years, the cedars were found [in] about 1940 to be flourishing as in ancient times.”
Farther east, a similar pattern is seen. China was one of the first to build an agricultural structure conducive to supporting a society. However, as with other ancient civilizations, population growth led to terrible abuse of the land. Today, the nation endures recurring, catastrophic floods due to silt-clogged rivers, some colored yellow by eroded soil.
In addition, the ancient irrigation systems of India and China “stand abandoned and filled with silt. When the British assumed the rule of India two centuries ago, the population was about 60 million. Today it is about [1.2 billion] and most of its land problems have been created in the past century through deforestation and plowing and the resulting erosion and siltation, all stemming from efforts to support this fantastic population growth” (ibid.).
Speaking of Central and South America, Dr. Cole said, “Archaeologists have long wondered how the Mayas managed to support what was obviously a high civilization on the now unproductive soils of Guatemala and Yucatan. Evidently, they exploited their land as intensively as possible until both its fertility and their civilization collapsed. In parts of Mexico the water table has fallen so that towns originally located to take advantage of superior springs now must carry in water from distant sites.”
Aerial reconnaissance “has revealed ancient ridged fields on flood plains, the remnants of ‘a specialized system of agriculture that physically reshaped large parts of the South American continent’” (ibid.).
According to Dr. Cole, today we call these areas of the world underdeveloped. Yet we ought to call them overdeveloped!
A closer look at Rome is worthwhile as the empire’s territory is considered a classic case study in manmade erosion.
From Rome’s Golden Age to the Western empire’s collapse, all soils in the farmed areas (with the possible exception of Egypt) had been deprived of the nutrients necessary for the production of healthy crops.
“In England evidences of Roman cultivation have been found five feet below the present surface,” Mr. Mickey wrote in Man and the Soil. “Largely as a result of Roman exploitation, there are [almost] no forests on the Mediterranean coast from Spain to Palestine. Typical of this region is the North Dalmatian coast…[where the] hills of this region once were magnificently clothed with primeval forests. The Romans and the Illyrians, the earliest inhabitants, began the destruction of the forests. The first Slav settlers were prodigal, too. The denudation of the hills was completed by the Venetians, from about 1400 to 1700, who cut the trees for timber for their ships and piles for their palaces. The Yugoslav government was unable to reforest the hills because the young trees not uprooted by the savage north winds of winter were eaten by the goats of the peasants” (ibid.).
Many of these regions saw greatly reduced populations before the empire’s fall in AD 476, chiefly due to the deficient soils that could no longer sustain the region’s inhabitants.
Until modern times, Rome represented perhaps the worst example of long-term, widespread agricultural mismanagement. As a consequence, “the results of [Rome’s] avarice are visible yet today, in the eroded hills of Greece and the Mediterranean coast, in the sands of north Africa and western Asia.”
Yet in the 1940s, some soils in Italy had “completely recovered and…were producing more than they ever did.” Also, some soils in Western Europe and England had been “farmed for centuries not only without injury but…with yields steadily increasing for the past  years” (Man and the Soil).
WHY? How did this recovery come about? And why is it that some soils of Western Europe and England did not suffer erosion comparable to that of so many other areas?
Following Rome’s self-destruction, Europe’s inability to keep fertile soil in the Middle Ages continually pushed them to the brink of starvation.
During the 18th century, central Europe’s soils showed severe deterioration. In his 1947 book Food or Famine: the Challenge of Erosion, Ward Shepard wrote, “Since the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the world has had a larger food supply than it ever had before. The nineteenth century was the golden age of abundance. Except for this relatively brief period, though, food has been man’s chief preoccupation through his long, precarious history and prehistory.”
But this age of abundance is rapidly drawing to a close. In 2010, almost one in seven people in the world—925 million—were underfed and undernourished, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. And the first six months of 2012 showed that an additional 50 million worldwide are without food.
In the 19th century, two notable factors helped make Europe’s food supply plentiful—parallel revolutions in industry and agriculture.
This was mostly due to the new conservation efforts put forth that transformed crop growth. The most significant practices are still in use today, such as contour farming and the process of rotating crops with bare fallow.
In addition to these, Mr. Shepard wrote in Food or Famine, the institution of effective crop rotations also helped accelerate the improvement in agriculture, along with the shift “from a soil-depleting grain economy to a soil-building livestock economy.
“The agricultural revolution not only greatly increased Europe’s food production, but gave an unparalleled stability to her soils by devoting a high proportion of them to permanent improved pasturage. This inherent stability and balance have been maintained despite two world wars and the immense growth of [the] European population.”
This was aided by the fact that central European soil is not as easily erodible as others. Also, rainfall there “is regular, frequent, and gentle, as contrasted with the heavier and more irregular rains that prevail in most parts of the United States” and the rest of the agricultural world (Man and the Soil).
But there is also a most important fact that must be considered: “soil stability in Europe was purchased at the expense of the ruthless exploitation of the soils in the new continents” (Food or Famine, emphasis added).
The book states that the dramatic agricultural revolution that fed the European “masses fathered by the machine age” was important. But even more so was “the European colonization of the rich new fertile lands—the Americas, Africa, and Australia—and the opening up of the black lands of Russia, coincidentally with perfecting machine exploitation of the soil and rail and ocean transport of food crops to the ends of the earth.
“With machine tillage and rapid transport, the vast new lands became the granary of the world. Their produce could be quickly moved to feed the swiftly growing industrial populations of the capitalist countries or to alleviate famine in India or China.”
The soils and resources of the new frontiers—especially in North America—seemed inexhaustible. But not for long!
The New World was shamefully exploited and abused. By 1685, streams were muddy with silt and floods increased due to deforestation. But the destruction of field and forest continued unabated.
George Washington and Thomas Jefferson—among a host of other early American leaders—were alarmed by what they saw taking place around them. They crusaded against destructive farming practices in word and deed, but to no avail, according to Mr. Mickey. The rape of the New World continued—and accelerated. When one tract of land wore out, undeveloped land was always available a little to the west.
“Every social and economic force seemed to encourage the spread of American agriculture. The invention of McCormick’s reaper, in 1831, and the other inventions of farm machinery that followed it made possible the cultivation of more and more acres…When the iron plow proved inefficient in the sticky prairie soil, the self-scouring steel plow appeared in 1837 to accelerate the westward march of agriculture” (Man and the Soil).
Throughout millennia, when man has worn out land in one area, he has moved to another. The close of the 19th century saw farming territory expanded to Oklahoma, marking the last free land area that could be occupied. After that, there was no rich, new agricultural land to which he could go.
The last significant U.S. frontier had been reached!
The consequences of misuse of the land became more fully apparent around 1914, at the beginning of the first world war.
“During World War I, 50 million acres of agricultural lands in Europe, exclusive of Russia, went out of cultivation. Consequently, 40 million acres of grass lands in the United States were thrown into cultivation for the first time. This land—most of it in the area of western Texas and Oklahoma, extending into bordering parts of Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska—never was fitted for intensive cultivation.”
“In the madness of the ‘wheat rush’ these lands were ripped open by the plow and wheat was cultivated on them by a process which is better described as ‘mining’ than agriculture.”
“On many of these huge farms there were no human inhabitants. Men came in the fall or the spring, plowed and seeded the soil, and went away. They returned in the summer, gathered the crop and went away again. After the harvest, the bare soil lay unprotected in that arid, windswept region, while the fierce sun baked it and robbed it of moisture and fertility” (Man and the Soil).
The original condition of the soil was so rich that the effects of poor husbandry took a number of years to become apparent. Then, over the 20-year span of 1914 to 1934, erosion took a greater amount of soil than in any previous period, which created an environment ripe for the coming great dust storms.
In portions of the U.S. Plains states, as well as Arizona and California, there are now deserts where approximately 90 to 140 years ago lush grasses reached up to horses’ bellies or higher and bumper wheat crops were a yearly occurrence.
Much of the world followed the U.S. in these short-sighted practices. In the 19th century, economic expansion, with attendant soil mismanagement, took place around the globe. The population explosion pushed for more intensive farming practices that would rob the planet of its capability to support its occupants.
Africa ranks equally or perhaps even ahead of North America in the extent and severity of depletion.
Data has shown that most nations in Central and South America suffer these problems to some extent, Mr. Shepard wrote in Food or Famine. In many areas, such as the wheatlands of Chile and the vast plains of the Argentine Pampas, they are severe. Overgrazing and tilling up grasslands to cultivate wheat have taken a heavy toll in destroying the choicest agricultural lands on the continent. The Amazon Basin and other tropical areas—though of less value agriculturally—also reveal excessive erosion.
The story of topsoil depletion in the Australian wheatlands and grazing lands on the border of the central desert sounds like a replay of what happened in the American West of the 1930s. Deforestation of mountains has also led to flooding and siltation issues (ibid.).
And the same picture emerged in New Zealand, where acres of forest converted into pastureland were overgrazed. Many steep slopes that should have been left to permanent forest were cleared to accommodate more sheep and cattle.
Yet it is not just the aforementioned countries that are devastating their soil. Erosion swept with unexpected force through the population-strained country of India as well as the wheatlands of Russia and grasslands of Eurasia.
“Looking at the world’s soils and natural resources in the large, they are in general and with few exceptions characterized by similar degenerative processes, which may be classified as follows:
“1) In humid regions, water erosion is destroying sloping lands by virtue of poor methods of tillage and by overgrazing of pastures.
“2) The cultivable grass-lands—the prairie soils of the Americas, Australia, Africa, and Russia—are being depleted by one-crop farming, notably wheat, and by wind and water erosion.
“3) Semi-arid grass-lands in the Americas, Eurasia, Africa, and Australia have been severely devegetated by overgrazing, with intense wind and water erosion that in many regions is producing, or threatening to produce, true desert conditions.
“4) The bulk of the world’s forests are being destructively exploited, not over 12 or 15 percent of the total forest area being under scientific management.
“5) In all these countries, poor tillage, overgrazing, and deforestation are wasting vast quantities of surface water by permitting it to rush into stream channels and out to sea instead of being absorbed into the soil by well-kept vegetative cover. This wastage causes desiccation of the land, the disruption of rivers and valleys, and an increasing menace to immense potential sources of hydroelectric energy” (Food or Famine).
Earth’s total forest and grassland cover has already been depleted well below the safety margin for maintaining a healthy climate.
“Erosion has modified the surface of the earth more than the combined activities of all the earthquakes, volcanoes, tornadoes and tidal waves since the beginning of history, yet its processes are so gradual that we…have been prone to ignore it,” Austin Burges wrote in Soil Erosion Control.
And ignore it most have!
In 1935, the United States Congress began to take notice. It established the Soil Conservation Service to address the widening scope of manmade erosion. The seriousness of the situation was driven home by a series of “calamities in the form of searing droughts, stupendous floods, and continent-darkening dust storms that impressed on men’s minds, to the four corners of the earth, the fury of the swiftly spreading revolt of nature against man’s crude efforts of mastery” (Food or Famine).
What did the Soil Conservation Service find when they made their first survey? They discovered that manmade erosion was “in progress on more than half our land surface—on more than a billion acres of the less than two billion acres in the continental United States.
“They found that already over 100 million acres of our best crop-land had been irremediably ruined for further cultivation” (ibid.).
In addition, Mr. Shepard wrote: “An even more destructive and critically dangerous erosion has swept over the western grass-lands of the Great Plains and intermountain plateaus after fifty or seventy-five years of overgrazing by livestock and futile and mistaken efforts to subdue these lands to the plow…Nowhere in America and almost nowhere in the world is the stupendous breakdown of great land masses and river systems more advanced, and in few parts of the world has man been more decisively defeated by nature than in the grass-lands.
“On our third great category of land—forest-land—America has met the same decisive defeat at the hands of nature.”
Despite conservation efforts over the past 75 years, government estimates from the Soil Conservation Service, which became the Natural Resources Conservation Service in 1994, indicate that nearly two-thirds of the 1.35 billion acres of privately owned rural land in the U.S. (about three-fifths of the total land area) need additional conservation treatment!
In his book Soil Erosion Control, Mr. Burges recorded that erosion by wind and water in the 1940s annually removed “21 times as much fertility from the fields of the United States as do the crops harvested from them.”
In accordance with the same calculations, Mr. Mickey wrote in Man and the Soil, “This loss in plant nutrients…represents 60 times the quantity used each year in commercial fertilizer.”
Food or Famine also stated, “From our farms and grass-lands alone, man-made erosion [was] moving over three billion tons of soil every year down into our rivers and reservoirs and out to sea” (emphasis added).
To put this into perspective, Mr. Burges described that hauling this vast amount of earth “would require a train of freight cars long enough to encircle the globe at the equator 37 times!” (emphasis added).
That is a loss of about one-half ton of topsoil for every man, woman and child on Earth.
This is the same topsoil that holds the vital nutrients needed to produce the sustenance we depend on and serves as a thin line that separates man and famine.
“On the basis of 1,000 tons of topsoil to cover one acre seven inches deep, that meant the equivalent…of 7,000 one-hundred-acre farms” was lost in the U.S. to water erosion down the Mississippi River every year (Man and the Soil). That equates to about two million tons per day!
“All of the rivers of the earth probably [carried] to the sea about forty times as much sediment as that carried by the Mississippi,” The Illustrated Library of the Natural Sciences stated.
Recent years have seen little improvement with estimates from 2007 showing that 87 percent of cropland continues to “erode excessively”—meaning that soil erosion rates are beyond the maximum annual “loss that will permit crop productivity to be sustained economically and indefinitely on a given soil” (U.S. Department of Agriculture).
Former USDA International Agricultural Analyst Lester Brown wrote in his book World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse, “As long as soil erosion on cropland does not exceed new soil formation, all is well.”
In the past two centuries, however, erosion has far exceeded the natural rate of replacement.
Dr. Brown stated, “Today, roughly a third of the world’s cropland is losing topsoil at an excessive rate, thereby reducing the land’s inherent productivity. An analysis of several studies on soil erosion’s effect on U.S. crop yields concluded that for each inch of topsoil lost, wheat and corn yields declined by close to 6 percent” (emphasis added).
Following a series of high-intensity deluges in 2011, Richard Cruse, an agronomy professor at Iowa State University, told The New York Times, “In a variety of locations, we’re losing topsoil considerably faster—10 to as much as 50 times faster—than it’s forming.”
But what has been the source of such dramatic losses?
“In some situations, the threat to topsoil comes primarily from overplowing, as in the U.S. Dust Bowl, but in other situations, such as in northern China, the cause is primarily overgrazing. In either case, permanent vegetation is destroyed and soils become vulnerable to both wind and water erosion…Giant dust bowls are historically new, confined to the last century or so. During the late nineteenth century, millions of Americans pushed westward, homesteading on the Great Plains, plowing vast areas of grassland to produce wheat. Much of this land—highly erodible when plowed—should have remained in grass. Exacerbated by a prolonged drought, this overexpansion culminated in the 1930s Dust Bowl…” (World on the Edge, emphasis added).
What wind erosion can do was demonstrated by an unprecedented dust storm, or “duster,” on May 11, 1934. Mr. Mickey recorded that it “carried away an estimated 300 million tons of the topsoil of western Kansas and Oklahoma and the bordering parts of Texas, Colorado, and Nebraska” (emphasis added). On the same basis as mentioned above, this one duster “meant the equivalent of 3,000 one hundred-acre farms taken out of crop production” (Man and the Soil).
But the lessons from the Dust Bowl have not been fully learned. Soaring corn and soybean prices in 2011 drove farmers to once again till more land for crops—from steep hillsides to grassy pastures.
“‘There’s a lot of land being converted into row crop in this area that never has been farmed before,’ said [a farmer in western Iowa], explaining that the bulldozed land was too steep and costly to farm to be profitable in years of ordinary prices. ‘It brings more highly erodible land into production because they’re out to make more money on every acre’” (The New York Times). Such shortsighted practices mine cash for the moment instead of building renewable assets for the next year—and generations to come!
Yet even after cultivating more land, crop yields still fell short of those recorded in 2010.
Then in 2012, after a planting season surpassing that of the past 75 years, Bloomberg reported that record drought struck the U.S. and drove 29 states into natural-disaster status. The corn market forecasted a loss of 60 million metric tons, which skyrocketed prices up 55 percent within five weeks!
In an effort to aid livestock producers, protected land was opened in July.
“Additional acres in the Conservation Reserve Program will be made available to farmers and ranchers for haying or grazing, as the most widespread drought in seven decades has substantially reduced forage for livestock, the USDA said.
“The lands made available are classified as ‘abnormally dry’ and do not include sensitive lands such as wetlands and rare habitats,” Agence France-Presse reported.
The combination of overplowing, overgrazing, deluges and droughts leaves the land even more susceptible to erosion than in previous years. One wonders how much longer it will be until history repeats itself.
All these figures, of course, must be taken only as estimates. Erosion takes away the prime materials of the soil. Therefore, some experts believe the loss “is far greater than is apparent from a mere consideration of its actual weight or total quantity” (Conservation of the Soil, emphasis added).
The effects of man’s mismanagement of the land continue to spread like ripples in a pond. As rainwater carries away vital nutrients contained within the soil, the surface water it drains into becomes unusable due to sheer mass of debris. So man has been sowing the seeds of his own destruction by fouling the two primary sources of nourishment: the soil and the water upon which all life depends.
Evidence of this manifests itself in our rivers and streams. During the 1970s, the USDA reported more than 8,000 of the 12,711 small watersheds identified in the U.S. mainland—or 65 percent—as having conservation problems needing solutions. Today, all watersheds are in need of treatment, with only those of “high need” up for consideration, according to the USDA.
Yet “engineers, still bemused by the fallacy that man can conquer nature, dream of restoring our broken-down river systems by the simple expedient of erecting gigantic flood-detention and silt-detention dams. This is a naive oversimplification of the problem.”
“For the engineers ignore the most significant aspect of their problem, namely, that nature herself, violently reconstructing entire watersheds in an effort to cope with the surplus runoff, has carved over 200 million gullies in the United States,” Mr. Shepard wrote in Food or Famine (emphasis added).
Testifying to the unconquerable force of nature, “an estimated 2000 irrigation dams in the United States are now useless impoundments of silt, sand, and gravel” (BioScience).
Improper use of land has not only affected surface water quality, but it has also spread into the seas where our rivers lead, as reported by The New York Times: “Fertilizer runoff is responsible for a vast ‘dead zone,’ an oxygen-depleted region where little or no sea life can exist, in the Gulf of Mexico.”
Whether simply overlooked or willingly ignored, proper soil fertility management and land use has been proven to vastly reduce both water loss and erosion. Unless there is a return to these true values, these losses will lead to catastrophe!
Be sure to read the next issue for the continuation of the book. To read it online, visit Mounting Worldwide Crisis in Agriculture.