Today is a follow-up post on soil erosion after Monday’s A Recipe for Soil Disaster: Flooding + Today’s Farm Policy, which is a must-read in case you missed it, in which I call out the increased soil disaster potential from reduced CRP acres combined with increased flooding and droughts caused by Climate Change.
Today, I want to re-run a post from last summer, which gave alarming soil loss stats for Iowa and for the entire U.S., and I’m adding information about no-till adoption rates, the Iowa Soil Erosion Project, the story of this year’s increased Nitrogen run-off severely contaminating Midwestern drinking water, and, finally, if you read through to the bottom, you’ll see two more outstanding photos from Rick, the North Dakota photographer who documents the farming destruction that he sees around him which causes soil erosion on marginal lands.
First, the re-run:
(h/t Thanks for the reminder “A Farmer in Ohio” )
Anger Out of Iowa
Some people in Iowa are becoming hot under the collar about this erosion, as evidenced in this editorial from the Storm Lake Times this week, also published in the DesMoines Register. “We are told that everyone is doing everything they can to conserve soil. To the contrary, it appears that farmers are doing everything they can to plow up every last inch of ground chasing high-priced corn and soybeans. Fence lines are gone. The plows are into the road ditches. Not a blade of grass lines some prominent local drainage ditches. Buffers that were planted to protect surface water have been ripped up all around us. We drain wetlands that hold water from rushing over fields.”
Iowa’s Soil Erosion Project
Iowa has a website called the Soil Erosion Project which is trying to keep updates on the state’s soil erosion.
Here is the site’s erosion map for May 2013:
The orange areas represent regions estimated to have lost an average of 7 tons of soil per acre. According to @honkerwhisperer, this map just shows sheet and rill erosion, so the total erosion reality is worse than this.
(h/t @hunterwhisperer on twitter)
One thing I did not cover in Monday’s post was no-till farming practices, which are helping to reduce the amount of soil runoff. As you see, less than 25 percent of the corn cropland has adopted no-till, and that crop contributes greatly to soil erosion and Nitrate run-off.
Recent analysis using ARMS data reveals that one form of reduced tillage, no-till, generally increased over 2000-07. Soybean farmers (those who had the majority of their acreage in soybeans) had the highest percentage of planted acres with no-till (45.3 percent in 2006), with wheat farmers in second place (38.8 percent in 2009). Corn farmers practiced no-till on 23.9 percent of planted acres in 2010. Cotton farmers practiced no-till on 20.7 percent of planted acres in 2007. For all crops with observations in multiple years, the percentage of no-till acreage increased during the 2000-2010 time period.
The following chart shows how much no-till was adopted by 2010:
Health Risks are Also Associated with High Soil Erosion…
Yesterday, an AP story out of DesMoines reported that Iowa’s drinking water is seeing all-time highs in nitrate levels. The news item says that this has been caused by the rains which have washed fertilizer off the farms and into rivers especially since Iowa saw its wettest April in 141 years this spring. (Remember that rains that cause fertilizer to wash away cause soil to wash away!) Iowans, it seems, are trading agricultural profits for health, as some river waters were showing nitrate levels of 24 milligrams per liter in April, when the EPA recommends that drinking water nitrate levels be kept under 10 milligrams per liter. Furthermore, they are subsidizing poor farming practices by expensive clean-up processes consequently required for their drinking water, in DesMoines, for example. And, of course, this problem of Nitrate contaminated drinking water (ground water) isn’t only found in Iowa, it is in all of the top corn producing states. I recall that last summer we saw alarming reports about this from Minnesota.
More Photos from Rick
Finally, Rick, the “Concerned Prairie Photographer” who is documenting some of this soil loss from erosion in North Dakota, has more photos to share, which help explain to us the type of farming practices which can lead to erosion.
(Click to enlarge.)
(Click to enlarge.)
What can we do?
What would be the most logical ways to prevent this ongoing disaster in our Midwestern corn belt and also preserve our farmland and water for future generations? 1) End the corn ethanol mandate insanity 2) bring back CRP land acres to previous peak levels (we are down 10 million acres, or 26 percent from the peak five years ago), and 3) Require and enforce conservation methods of grassy waterways, catchments, and wetlands areas, especially for those who earn farm subsidies, but also for every farm in America.
There are, of course, farmers who practice excellent stewardship, and to them we should all say “thankyou”. A few bad apples can spoil the whole bunch.