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Research Project: Developing Agronomically and Environmentally Beneficial Management Practices to Increase the Sustainability and Safety of Animal Manure Utilization

Location: Food Animal Environmental Systems Research

Title: How much margin is left for degrading agricultural soils? The coming soil crises

item GEBREMEDHIN, MAHETEME - Kentucky State University
item COYNE, MARK - University Of Kentucky
item Sistani, Karamat

Submitted to: Soil Systems
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 2/18/2022
Publication Date: 2/20/2022
Citation: Gebremedhin, M., Coyne, M.S., Sistani, K.R. 2022. How much margin is left for degrading agricultural soils? The coming soil crises. Soil Systems. 6(1). Article 22.

Interpretive Summary: Soil, as the foundation for much of life on Earth, requires careful management and an understanding that its health and protection are paramount to ensuring a food-secure world. According to the United Nations to Combat Desertification report, an estimated 24 billion tons of the world’s fertile soil is lost annually to erosion. This trend, characterized by a slow and steady decline in soil quality, has a ripple effect on productive farmlands, especially on dry-land agriculture, and is projected to continue as climate change intensifies. Of central importance are efforts to curb soil degradation and erosion. For example, despite a national response to soil losses of the 1930s’ Dust Bowl era, a new study showed that nearly one-third of the land devoted to growing major crops across the United States Corn Belt has lost its fertile topsoils. In the United States, estimates of soil erosion from cultivated croplands range from 4.6–11.5 t/ha/y, with much higher losses following extreme weather events.

Technical Abstract: Agricultural soils are in peril. Multiple lines of observational and empirical evidence suggest that we are losing the world’s fertile soils at an alarming rate, worsening the on-going global food crisis. It is increasingly clear that the risk of soil crises driven by erratic precipitation, warming air, and farming mismanagement is coming sooner rather than later. At this critical time, society cannot avoid looking for ways to curb soil crises. We argue that now is the right time for science-based mitigation strategies and new insights to protect soils. We offer four research priority areas that society needs to address. Arresting and reversing the ongoing soil degradation are tantamount to safeguarding humanity and the environment. To the extent that we continue to treat soil crises as a problem for farmers only—not as a global challenge—we only escalate the scale to which the problem will grow in time and complexity.