Science on Tap

blonde woman in suitSoil: A Precious Resource Under Threat by Dr. Jo Handelsman
Director of the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Vilas Research Professor, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor

Soil erosion remains a largely unrecognized crisis, and yet the loss of this precious resource threatens to cause mass starvation in a few decades. Throughout history, agricultural practices such as plowing have destroyed the architecture of soil, making it more vulnerable to erosion. Many civilizations have collapsed because their soil eroded, leaving people with no way to grow crops. Today, we see the same trend in the United States and around the world. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that, on average, soil erodes at a rate of almost five tons per acre per year from U.S. cropland. With soil being generated at less than one-tenth of this rate, the loss is simply unsustainable. Global warming accelerates the crisis, as more frequent severe rainstorms drive soil from the land and induce its release of carbon in the form of powerful greenhouse gases. It’s a vicious cycle, but there is a way out:  To halt this crisis, consumers need to partner with farmers to make it feasible for them to adopt sustainable practices. The stakes are too high to ignore our nation’s soil.


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