Keep soil alive, protect soil biodiversity
Jerry Raynor, State Conservationist
Many of us can remember those childhood days spent digging in the dirt searching for buried treasure. It is an activity some of us have carried over into our adult careers, but, instead of a lost cache of pirate gold, we are searching for the building blocks of life that live hidden in the Earth’s soils.
On Dec. 5, we will once again celebrate World Soil Day here and throughout the world. The theme this year is “Keep soil alive, Protect soil biodiversity” and it is a perfect time to think about the secrets hidden in the soil and the important role they play.
Hidden in that dirt we so innocently dug into as children is an entire world of animals, such as earthworms, bacteria, fungi and more that enables us to grow food and feed the people of the world. The soils of the world are home to an astounding quarter of the biodiversity on Earth and play important roles in our food chain, making the rich biodiversity here in Indiana a key natural resource that we all must work together to preserve. A single teaspoonful of healthy soil contains more microorganisms than there are people on Earth. In all, millions of species and billions of organisms work together to create a complex system that keeps soil healthy. As these organisms build shelter, eat and produce waste, they play a vital role in cycling the nutrients that build soil and give it the structure needed for plants to grow and flourish.
Healthy soil enables us to grow food. It captures and stores excess carbon, which protects the environment. Soil also helps prevent floods by storing water. These are but a few of the benefits of healthy soil, which requires a rich world of biodiversity beneath the surface.
None of this is possible without a combined effort to protect this non-renewable resource. For our farmers, that means planting cover crops during fallow seasons to reduce erosion and switching to no-till to allow the diversity to thrive. By disturbing the soil as little as possible and growing a diverse group of living plants, their soil offers food to microbes which, in turn, cycle nutrients back to the ground, allowing plants it to grow and flourish.
But, this responsibility falls on all of us. Whether you are planting corn and soybeans on thousands of acres, have a small garden in your backyard or are simply a consumer of the food grown in the soil, we all must work together to improve the health of our soil and unlock the secrets within it.
If you would like to learn more about improving the health of your soil, call the NRCS office nearest you to talk to a district conservationist or go online to www.in.nrcs.usda.gov.
To learn more about the World Soil Day, visit World Soil Day | Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.