IMPROVING SOILS AND THEIR MANAGEMENT FOR MORE EFFICIENT WATER USE IN ENVIRONMENTALLY SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE
Location: Coastal Plain Soil, Water and Plant Conservation Research
Title: Soil and water conservation in the southeastern United States: A look at conservation practices past, present, and future
Submitted to: Book Chapter
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: July 30, 2009
Publication Date: April 16, 2010
Citation: Busscher, W.J., Schomberg, H.H., Raper, R.L. 2010. Soil and water conservation in the southeastern United States: A look at conservation practices past, present, and future. In: Zobeck, T.M., Schillinger, W.F., editors. Soil and Water Conservation Advances in the United States. Madison, WI:Soil Science Society of America Special Publication 60. p. 183-200.
Interpretive Summary: Soil and water conservation in the southeastern US has changed over the years and new challenges will require more changes in the future. The first conservationists were the Indians; they were followed by early European settlers. Both groups conserved the land by rotating fields in and out of production. As demands for agricultural products increased, producers continuously cropped the land which caused deterioration. In the southeastern Piedmont, fertile soils eroded into the streams and water bodies where they still reside today. In the southeastern Coastal Plains, soils suffered from compaction, poor fertility, and low availability of water for crops. Today, both areas suffer with poor productivity, limited flexibility, and stringent management requirements. During this time, water was considered abundant or even excessive. Producers and researchers have recently developed management practices that reduce tillage to improve soil organic matter for fertility and increase infiltration of rainfall/irrigation for plant available water. However, these practices are being challenged by the need for the organic matter to make fuel and the need of the water for industrial and population growth. These new challenges will have to be met with research on new production or carbon sequestration management systems, new irrigation management systems that use less water, and new storage sites that can satiate population/industrial growth while satisfying ecological, hydrological, and political expectations.
Both the Indians and early Europeans used techniques that permitted the land to be rested as it rotated in and out of production. As agricultural intensities increased, more lands were cleared and cropped continuously. As a result, the sloping lands of the Piedmont that were once fertile quickly eroded and still suffer the consequences with poor productivity, limited flexibility, and stringent management requirements. Stringent management is also required by Coastal Plain soils that suffer from compaction, poor fertility, and low water holding capacities. To solve these problems, researchers and producers developed management practices of non-inversion tillage that increased organic carbon to improve soils. However, they now face new challenges of rapidly increasing fuel/tillage costs and a need for fuel cellulose that should be maintaining soil quality. The new challenges point to the need for research to develop new production and soil quality systems. Additionally, improved water storage/supplies are needed to serve irrigation, industry, and an increasing southeastern US population.