The Scoop on Soil

by Lisa Hadden

A nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1937

These next few weeks I will be sending activities into classrooms that concentrate on the importance of healthy soil. Students will have the opportunity to make something or plant an item that encourages the fact that without healthy soil, life as we know it cannot exist.

Did you know that one teaspoon (yes, teaspoon) of soil contains more organisms than there are people on Earth? That is a bit hard to comprehend! There are currently over 7.6 billion people across the globe and the prediction is 10 billion people by the year 2050. How in the world are we going to feed, clothe and house that many people? Healthy soil is the key. It is one of the most important natural resources.

Soil is comprised of about 50% air and water and 50% mineral and organic matter. Organic matter is comprised of decaying plant material, earthworms, insects, bacteria and fungi. Farmers must also test the soil for adequate nutrients. Technology has advanced so that they can have tests taken from different parts of the field and then with GPS the correct amount of nutrients can be added in the correct quantities.

Farmers are the stewards of our land and they have had to wear numerous hats to do this. They also rely on the support of numerous other professionals such as Agronomists, Soil Conservationists, Crop Production Specialists, Research Scientists, Research Technicians, Crop Consultants and Educators, Watershed Technicians and Microbiologists. These are all other career opportunities for someone who does not want to farm but still wants to be a part of this responsibility that we have to our soil.

Farmers are often criticized for their use of fertilizers and chemicals. With continued education on their part and the assistance of scientists and technicians, the use of these products has become increasingly environmentally friendly.

This leads us to what is commonly referred to as the Four Rs of nutrient stewardship:

• Right Source – matches the fertilizer type to the needs of the crop

• Right Rate – matches the correct amount that the crop needs

• Right Time – nutrients are available when the crop needs them so there is minimal waste

• Right Place – keeps the nutrients where the crops can use them

This would be a great time for students to take an active interest in soil and what can be done to improve it to sustain our growing population.

I would also like to challenge you to “Soil Your Undies.” Bury a pair of 100% cotton underwear with an elastic waistband. And in a few short months dig them up and see what you have left. With the help of interns at the Cass-Morgan Farm Bureau Office, we did just that. Check out what those micro-organisms did to our undies!

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