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Event at USDA Ushers in 2015 as the International Year of Soils

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) celebration of the International Year of Soils event at USDA headquarters in Washington, D.C. USDA photo by Bob Nichols.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) celebration of the International Year of Soils event at USDA headquarters in Washington, D.C. USDA photo by Bob Nichols.

Yesterday, we officially launched the International Year of Soils here at USDA.

Most people don’t realize that just beneath their feet lies a diverse, complex, life-giving ecosystem that sustains our entire existence. I’m talking about soil. There are more living organisms in a single teaspoon of healthy soil than there are people on the earth.

Our soils are alive. We talk about soil health – not soil quality — on purpose. It’s an important distinction. Anything can have a “quality,” but only living things can have health.

The United Nations recently declared 2015 as the International Year of Soils in an effort to highlight the important role of soils in food production and biodiversity preservation. This week, USDA launched International Year of Soils with an event at USDA headquarters.  In his remarks, Secretary Vilsack said that this year marks an opportunity to focus on the important role soil plays in our lives.

We’re proud of the UN’s efforts to raise awareness for soil, and we look forward to a year of celebrating it. We’ve partnered with Soil Science Society of America, which is spotlighting soil through a particular theme each month, starting with “Soils Sustain Life” for January.

Dr. Carolyn Olson, President of the Soil Science Society of America,  presented the 2015 Soils Planner published by the Soil Science Society of America at USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) celebration of the International Year of Soils at USDA in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015. The event was to highlight the importance of healthy soils for food security, ecosystem functions and strong farms and ranches. USDA photo by Bob Nichols.

Dr. Carolyn Olson, President of the Soil Science Society of America, presented the 2015 Soils Planner published by the Soil Science Society of America at USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) celebration of the International Year of Soils at USDA in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015. The event was to highlight the importance of healthy soils for food security, ecosystem functions and strong farms and ranches. USDA photo by Bob Nichols.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), was born out of one of the worst ecological disasters in American history – the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. That’s when President Roosevelt established the Soil Conservation Service, or SCS (which would later become NRCS), to help farmers and ranchers recover and repair American agricultural lands after years of soil mismanagement. We’re continuing that conservation work to this day by providing assistance to producers looking to improve the health of the soil on their land.

In the coming decades, the global agricultural community will be challenged to keep pace with society’s needs in the face of a changing environment. Farmers, ranchers and forest landowners in the United States and worldwide will be counted on to provide food, fuel and fiber for the world’s population amid these new realities.

Jim Fortner, of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Natural Resources Soil Science, in Lincoln, NE (left) explains the Web Soil Survey to Richard Derksen, of the USDA Office of the Chief Scientist,  at the celebration of the International Year of Soils at USDA in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015. The Web Soil Survey is a description of soil survey maps across the country. The event was to highlight the importance of healthy soils for food security, ecosystem functions and strong farms and ranches. USDA photo by Bob Nichols.

Jim Fortner, of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Natural Resources Soil Science, in Lincoln, NE (left) explains the Web Soil Survey to Richard Derksen, of the USDA Office of the Chief Scientist, at the celebration of the International Year of Soils at USDA in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015. The Web Soil Survey is a description of soil survey maps across the country. The event was to highlight the importance of healthy soils for food security, ecosystem functions and strong farms and ranches. USDA photo by Bob Nichols.

Conservation practices that work to improve soil health is one of the best tools we have to help producers in the face of these impending challenges. Healthy soils help us maintain and even improve their productivity, while helping to address natural resource concerns.

Healthy soils are a critical piece of mitigating impacts from weather extremes. They have a greater water holding and nutrient cycling capacity. In drought, this can help ensure production continues. In heavy rainfall, healthy soils can help keep water and nutrients in the soil where they belong and avert runoff into nearby waterways or flooding communities downstream.

David Lamm, NRCS National Soil Health  and Sustainability Team Leader, East National Technology Support Center, Greensboro, NC, explains soil health to Jill Luxenburg at USDA's NRCS, “Behold Our Living Soil” exhibit at NRCS celebration of the International Year of Soils at USDA in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015. The event was to highlight the importance of healthy soils for food security, ecosystem functions and strong farms and ranches. USDA photo by Bob Nichols.

David Lamm, NRCS National Soil Health and Sustainability Team Leader, East National Technology Support Center, Greensboro, NC, explains soil health to Jill Luxenburg at USDA's NRCS, “Behold Our Living Soil” exhibit at NRCS celebration of the International Year of Soils at USDA in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015. The event was to highlight the importance of healthy soils for food security, ecosystem functions and strong farms and ranches. USDA photo by Bob Nichols.

And we’re continuing to explore the incredible capacity of our soils to store carbon dioxide.

The health and vitality of our soils are rooted in four basic tenants that make up a soil health management system:  minimize disturbance; keep soil covered; energize soil with plant diversity; and maximize living roots.  That is the recipe for a healthy, happy and productive soil system.

At NRCS, soil health is hands down one of the most important efforts we’re tackling as an agency.

Learn more about the International Year of Soils, and be sure to check out our monthly video series on soils on the NRCS YouTube Channel. Also view more photos of yesterday’s event. To get started with NRCS, visit your local USDA Service Center or www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Jason Weller at the celebration of the International Year of Soils event at USDA headquarters in Washington, D.C. USDA photo by Bob Nichols.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Jason Weller at the celebration of the International Year of Soils event at USDA headquarters in Washington, D.C. USDA photo by Bob Nichols.

8 Responses to “Event at USDA Ushers in 2015 as the International Year of Soils”

  1. Sultan Barq says:

    Thanks for selecting SOILS as theme for 2015. Misuse of soil is inversely proportional to the research a regulation. Soils in the world are as contiguous as water and air. Misuse of all the three resources are in the developing world where poverty and lack of regulation and research is seriously and irreversibly damaging the 3 resources. A bad and spoiled soils in India and Pakistan is equally harmful for USA, Japan, China etc. Pl wakeup

  2. Dr. Godwin .O. Chukwu says:

    I am overwhelmed by the detailed monthly preparation by the USDA to celebrate this earthly material from which God created man. The apathy for soil as exemplified by high degree of soil resource illiteracy, especially in the sub-Saharan Africa is a major cause of perennial food insecurity. The celebration of the International Year of Soil will increase our passion for soil. This can be seen in our ability to discuss soils by name as we discuss crops, livestock, etc and friendly disposition in its management. To achieve this in the sub-Saharan African countries, it is my view that a SOIL EVANGELIZATION PROJECT be born.

    I am a Pedologist and a lecturer at the Department of Soil Science and Meteorology, Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike Nigeria. From March 2008 – May 2014, I championed “Cocoyam Re-birth Initiative” to save a neglected crop (taro and tannia). The impact was great. The experience grained from cocoyam rebirth made me suggest Soil Evangelization Project. Thank you.

  3. shayleen snyder says:

    I don’t understand how USDA can spout all of this regarding soil health, and at the same time, allow tons and tons of herbicides to sterilize and kill our soil in the United States and any other country that will allow it. Who are you trying to kid here???

  4. Lorraine Smith says:

    I would like to add my voice that the USDA should understand the deadly impact of continued dousing of millions of fields with dangerous and destructive herbicides. The result is not open-ended; it is final loss of trust in Governmental protection of our food supply. Instead I highly recommend that the USDA start a dedicated initiative to support continued development of farm robotics to reduce and control use of poisons in our food supply. This would gradually wean farmers off total reliance on poisons. The Federal Gov’t needs to offer tax incentives to both the large farming consolidates (using GE products) and small farmers alike to use robotic technology to reduce use of poisons by at least 50%. The technology is already there. The USDA needs to demand national support for the cutting edge agri-robotics industries.

  5. Casey Jackson says:

    I agree with Shayleen. I look forward to more independent research result recognition for the negative impact of herbicides and pesticides in our soil profile. Putting chemicals into our soils does not promote long term health and ultimately damages the ecosystems that surround the soil, including the human body. I would love to promote this initiative but cannot in good conscience due to the fact that the USDA is more influenced by the economics of the agrochemical industry than by the prospect of long term planetary and soil health. Should the USDA start a real- applied educational initiative toward good soil health and retention practices (and not just rhetoric) I would reconsider and promote.

  6. Royal Rife says:

    I agree with some of the other commenters and believe that the soils of industrial agriculture are so infused with chemical pesticides and herbicides that they are essentially sterile. Even though some crops may be R____up Ready, I doubt the human body is….
    Got Worms???????

  7. Y. GANGI REDDY says:

    United Nations concern for making every country realise the need for Soil Health and series of activities to bring awareness among the governemnts, research organisations across all the nations. USDAs efforts in this regard are very good and preparing with an annual calender of activities. However, the concern of Soil health or the issues of Soil health need to be integrated its agriculture development policies and programmes. Since, ensuring the soil health in its normal level, the action agenda in terms of educating or encouraging farmers to adopt safe and healthy agricultural practices need to be calendered in place of series of seminars/ workshops.

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