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Farmers Encouraged to 'Champion Soil' in Face of Climate Change

The 2018 National Climate Assessment warned that agricultural productivity in the Midwest could drop by 25 percent in the next 30 years without technology advances and changes in crop production. (soilassociation.org)
The 2018 National Climate Assessment warned that agricultural productivity in the Midwest could drop by 25 percent in the next 30 years without technology advances and changes in crop production. (soilassociation.org)
December 28, 2018

DES MOINES, Iowa – Farming practices aren't changing as fast as the climate, and food production is likely to suffer, according to one expert who advocates for more sustainable or regenerative agriculture.

University of Washington Professor of Geomorphology David Montgomery was the keynote speaker at this month's third annual Soil Revolution conference. He notes that conventional farming practices can lead to excessive soil degradation – and says combined with a rising world population and a warming climate, that could severely impact food production by the middle of this century.

"And a lot of it boils down to over-reliance on the plow, on tillage, on mechanical disturbance of the soil to prepare it for planting,” says Montgomery. “And think about the Dust Bowl – that was a man-made disaster that was triggered by plowing up the grass."

And any farmer knows that once the grass is gone, soil erosion is inevitable. The director of the Iowa State Extension Service has said the average organic farm will gross $1,000 per acre this year, compared to $600 to $800 per acre for conventional farms of 2,000 acres where corn is grown.

Montgomery believes if more farmers adopted conservation practices he describes as simple and affordable, they could help mitigate the climate crisis, while increasing ag productivity.

"That there was a common set of principles that guided their practices,” says Montgomery. “And those principles could really be boiled down to a simple statement: 'Ditch the plow, cover up and grow diversity.'"

According to Montgomery, traditional ag practices degrade the soil so slowly that it doesn't seem like a major concern. But over generations, it dramatically affects soil fertility.

"So there's the idea of rebuilding healthy, fertile soil can help with the resilience of a farm and its ability to better tolerate droughts.,” says Montgomery. “There's good studies that show that regenerative farmers have better yields during drought periods than their conventional neighbors."

It's estimated the planet is losing soil 10 times faster than Earth can regenerate it.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - IA