U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) Under Secretary Robert Bonnie speaks during a celebration event marking the launch of The International Year of Soils at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Dec. 5, 2014. Friday is also the 1st World Soil Day. USDA photo by Zack Baddorf.
Last week at the United Nations in New York, I joined top USDA officials to celebrate World Soil Day and the U.S. launch of the International Year of Soils, or IYS. Last year, the United Nations General Assembly designated Dec. 5 as World Soil Day and declared 2015 as the IYS to “serve as a major platform for raising awareness of the importance of soils for food security and essential ecosystem service.” Representing the United States were Robert Bonnie, USDA under secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, and David Smith, deputy chief for soil science and resource assessment, with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
Under Secretary Bonnie was one of 10 distinguished guests making presentations on the floor of the United Nations. He emphasized the serious challenges that are facing agriculture and food security, particularly in light of the fact that in the next 40 years, farmers and ranchers will need to produce as much food as they have in the last 500 years to feed a rapidly growing population. He also said that NRCS’ work in soil conservation, soil health and soil science has been integral to the economic and environmental sustainability of agriculture. Read more »
Ohio farmer David Brandt farms with soil health in mind, making his place perfect to launch NRCS’ “Unlock the Secrets in the Soil” campaign. USDA photo.
Two years ago, at the farm of soil health pioneer Dave Brandt in Carroll, Ohio, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) officially launched the “Unlock the Secrets in the Soil.” The Brandt Farm was a fitting birthplace for a soil health education and awareness effort, since Brandt has been a leader, advocate and teacher of soil health principles for nearly three decades.
He continues to dedicate much of his time and energy to teaching farmers and others about the basics and benefits of soil health. And speaking of benefits, healthy soil is loaded with them. Read more »
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack talks to winners of the 1st International Soil Judging Contest during their visit to USDA on Aug. 18. American college students took the top two places in the first ever international competition.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack hosted the world’s eight best soil judges last week after they earned the top spots at the 1st International Soil Judging Contest in Jeju, South Korea, in June. The Natural Resources Conservation Service Soil Science Division was actively involved in organizing the event and mentoring the winners. The first and second place teams, both from the U.S., along with their coaches, participated in a roundtable discussion with Secretary Vilsack and NRCS Chief Jason Weller to talk about soil judging, the importance of soil health, and careers in soil science. In addition, NRCS’ Landscape Architect, Bob Snieckus, led the students and coaches on a tour of USDA’s green projects, including the rooftop garden and The People’s Garden.
It was the first international soil judging contest, but soil judging in the United States dates back to at least 1960. The events involve the description, classification and interpretation of soil, with the main purpose of helping students recognize important soil and landscape properties and to consider these characteristics when deciding how to use soils. A contest involves “judgers,” or students interested in soil science, entering a soil pit to examine the profile. The judgers then determine where the different horizons are and describe each one, looking at factors such as soil type, color, depth, consistency, shape, structure and other features. The soil is classified, and site and soil interpretations are performed. Read more »
Left to right: Coach John Galbraith, with students Tyler Witkowski, Kyle Weber, Emily Salkind, Caitlin Hodges, Nancy Kammerer, Bianca Peixoto, Julia Gillespie, Brian Maule, and Coach Chris Baxter.
While many tuned in to watch the World Cup to see which team would become the globe’s soccer champs, others watched a competition of a different kind: one that named the earth’s best identifiers of slices of earth.
College students from the United States competed with teams from nine other countries to see who could best interpret soil. America took first and second in the inaugural International Soil Judging Contest. And American contest Tyler Witkowski also won second place overall of 45 contestants.
“Soil and land judging at the high school and college level is a baseline entry for young people to study the land and learn to read the landscape so that they can better manage and protect it,” said Maxine Levin, with the National Soil Survey Center of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. NRCS is the United States’ premier private lands conservation agency, originally founded to conserve and map the nation’s soils. Levin helped prepare the contest and served as a judge. Read more »
These two farms have the same soils, same crops and same precipitation. The difference is that one farm uses many conservation practices that help improve soil health helping it thrive through extreme weather conditions. NRCS photo.
Soil health is always important, but extreme weather in the last few years has shown landowners just how important managing for it really is.
“The vital part of soil is topsoil, which unfortunately is also the part most susceptible to the effects of weather. That’s what makes protecting it so crucial,” said Doug Miller, soil health coordinator with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Minnesota.
The top two components of topsoil are clay content and soil organic matter that hold nutrients and water for plant use and growth. Read more »
Conservation tillage practices like no-till allow farmers to plant cash crop seeds with little disturbance to the soil, which protects the habitat for billions of the soil’s microorganisms. NRCS photo.
For years, it was believed that a certain amount of cropland soil erosion was inevitable. But by using conservation techniques like cover crops, no-till and diverse crop rotations, an increasing number of farmers are proving that we can actually build our soils and, in some instances, increase soil organic matter by as much as 3-4 percent.
In the process, these farmers are using less energy, maintaining or increasing production and improving their bottom lines. And that’s a reason to celebrate today—Earth Day 2014. Read more »