Coalition Report

by Kathleen Logan Smith
Executive Director ; Missouri Coalition For The Environment

Saving Ground

As we examine our food and farm system, and the upcoming 2012 Farm Bill in this column, we cannot avoid noting that the most care should be taken for the soil which is the foundation of our farmland’s and forest’s fertility. When the soil is tapped out of nutrients or washed away, the civilization that depends on it is threatened with food shortages and crop failures.

Last month Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a report concluding that Midwest farm states need to increase efforts to curb unchecked soil erosion because the situation in too many farm fields is shockingly severe. In fact, the new data set from Iowa suggests that erosion rates are worse, 2-20 times worse in some cases, than the reported statewide averages. The Iowa daily erosion data for May 2007 found that the single most vulnerable and poorly protected fields in 10 townships may have eroded at a catastrophic rate of 100 tons per acre in a single day.
If the situation in Iowa is dire, then the situation in Missouri could very well be worse.
Missouri has topped soil erosion rankings for decades, consistently landing among the top five states in the nation for soil erosion. USDA estimates that Missouri loses 4.2 tons per acre per year on cropland (cultivate and uncultivated) to soil erosion which is higher than the estimate for the U.S. as a whole (2.7).

Despite our challenging topography, we can do a better job of saving soil in Missouri. The EWG report calls for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to step up enforcement of soil conservation requirements on agricultural cropland to curtail unsustainable rates of soil loss. EWG recommends the USDA restrict farm safety net and payment programs to producers with soil conservation plans in place. The organization also recommends that the lowest cost, common sense, effective measures be required prior to more costly interventions. For example, a stream buffer of just 35 ft. can significantly reduce soil and fertilizer pollution into streams, safeguarding the health of fish, as well as reducing drinking water treatment costs for downstream users. (Stream buffers in urban areas also deliver similar clean water benefits.)

When it comes to erosion, we all have a stake in narrowing the USDA’s focus from ‘averages’ in data sets to impacts on individual fields. Until then, we are losing ground.

The Missouri Coalition for the Environment is a a non-profit, non-partisan, 501(c)(3) state-level conservation organization and a member of the Mississippi River Collaborative, which consists of 11 Mississippi River Basin organizations that have worked since 2005 to strengthen efforts to reduce all types of pollution entering the Mississippi River. For more information on the Collaborative, visit: www.msrivercollab.org.

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