How some Iowa farmers keep the land fertile, while others salt the earth
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has a new study out about the sexiest subject ever — soil erosion! Wait, don't go, this is important: Topsoil takes forever to make, so as it washes off of fields, it's literally taking our ability to feed ourselves with it.
Previously, scientists had estimated that Iowa fields were losing five tons of topsoil per acre per year — little enough, it was thought, that it could be replenished naturally. But the EWG's new study suggests that in some single storm events, as many as 100 tons of topsoil per acre are washing off of Iowa's fields.
The solution is simple — leaving buffers of trees and grasses around fields and riverbanks helps absorb storm runoff and keep dirt where it should be, under our crops. Farmers who do this aren't just increasing the odds future generations will find their lands fertile, they're also helping to prevent the massive pollution of the Gulf of Mexico which has led to a dead zone in which no fish can survive.
Unfortunately, higher than ever prices for corn and soybeans are encouraging farmers to plant ever more of their land — including steep embankments that are likely to wash away after they've been denuded of trees.
High Prices Sow Seeds of Erosion, <i>New York Times</i>.