Skip to main content
ARS Home » Plains Area » Bushland, Texas » Conservation and Production Research Laboratory » Soil and Water Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #310302

Title: Soil Degradation: A North American perspective

item Baumhardt, Roland - Louis
item STEWART, B.A. - West Texas A & M University
item Sainju, Upendra

Submitted to: Sustainability
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 2/26/2015
Publication Date: 3/11/2015
Citation: Baumhardt, R.L., Stewart, B., Sainju, U.M. 2015. Soil Degradation: A North American perspective. Sustainability 7(3):2936-2960.

Interpretive Summary: Soil degradation is a global problem that threatens world food security. Soil can be degraded by erosion and developing poor physical or chemical properties due to unsuitable farming methods.In North America, soil degradation led to the tragic wind erosion of the Dust Bowl, but later led to better soil management. Some chemical soil degradation is related to farm nutrient management that affects surface and subsurface drainage water. Preventing soil degradation combines management solutions like cover crops or residue to maintain rain infiltration to increase soil water and crop yields. Greater crop production adds to soil organic carbon for stable aggregates that control erosion and mitigates soil degradation. These results are of interest to farmers and natural resource consultants because they provide insights into best management practices to reduce soil degradation.

Technical Abstract: Soil can be degraded through erosion and formation of undesirable physical, chemical, or biological properties due to industrialization or use of inappropriate farming practices that supersede natural regeneration. Soil degradation reflects unsustainable resource management that is global in scope and compromises world food security. In North America, soil degradation preceded the catastrophic wind erosion associated with the dust bowl during the 1930's, but that event provided the impetus to improve management of soils degraded by both wind and water erosion. Efforts insuring water quality may have led to amelioration of site specific chemical soil degradation following industrial processing or mine spoil contamination; however, sustained investigations have been directed toward understanding soil chemical degradation related to farm nutrient management and contamination of surface and subsurface drainage water. Remediation or prevention of soil degradation requires integrated management solutions such as using cover crops or crop residue management to intercept raindrop impact and maintain higher infiltration rates that increase soil water storage and subsequent crop biomass production. That increased biomass and, potentially, soil organic carbon can stabilize aggregates to control soil degradation by wind or water erosion and is one example benefit integrated within management approaches mitigating soil degradation.