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By Staff | Jan 9, 2015

Last year may have been a lot of things to a lot of people but one thing it surely wasn’t was predictable.

I mean who foresaw last year’s record-setting high in the U.S. stock market, the plunge in global crude oil prices, Russia’s naked grab of Ukraine’s sovereign territory or the Obama Administration’s reaching out to Cuba?

Not me, I was a solid “Wow,” “Whoa,” “Nyet,” and “Really?” on four of the biggest events to rock both the U.S. and its farmers in 2014.

This year I’m not taking any chances and announcing 2015’s first big global event, the already announced (on Dec. 5, 2014 by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization) International Year of Soils.

The goal of this year-long, worldwide emphasis, explains the United Nations, is to increase awareness and understanding of the importance of soil for food security and essential ecosystem functions.

You would think that everyone in the world might already be aware of how this thin layer of life giving skin separates humanity’s continuing rise from its complete collapse or that our future is rooted in how we responsibly and sustainably treat the very ground we stand on.

(Links found at farmandfoodfile.com/in-the-news/.)

After all, it’s not like soil conservation and soil health are dirty little secrets. The science underpinning both is well known and widespread.

What may be even less secret, but far dirtier, is how deeply and how long we’ve abused soil. We don’t just treat it like dirt; we treat it as though it’s less than dirt.

For example, according to a 2001 report published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the yield reduction in Africa due to soil erosion already stands at more than 8 percent.

That irreversible loss doesn’t sound like much if you farm in the black earth country of Illinois or the yards deep soil of the Pacific Northwest’s Palouse. It’s life and death, however, if you live or hope to live in Tanzania or Kenya.

The story is the same in many of the world’s key farming regions. According to the same NRCS study, “the annual loss in productivity due to soil erosion and degradation in southern Asia is equal to 36 million metric tons of cereal equivalent.”

In U.S. terms, 36 mmt of cereal equivalent is 65 percent of the entire 2014, 2015 American wheat crop.

We in the U.S. have no room to brag. “It is estimated that the total annual cost of erosion is about $44 billion per year or about $247 per hectare [$100 per acre] of cropland and pasture,” reckoned USDA in 2001.

Taken across the globe, total soil erosion and soil degradation numbers are knee buckling: “The annual loss of 75 billion tons of soil costs the world about $400 billion per year, are about $70 per person per year.”

Changing the perspective doesn’t change the importance of soil or soil erosion.

According to USDA, “only 3 percent of earth’s surface is considered as prime Class I land, while another 8 percent is in Classes II and III. This 11 percent of land must feed the 7.6 billion expected in 2020 “

But “high population density is not necessarily related to land degradation; it is what a population does to the land that determines the extent of degradation.”

And population continues to grow; the amount of arable land does not. Writing for the Dec. 22 issue of Agri-Pulse, Marshall Matz, the former counsel for the Senate ag committee, cited European data that shows the amount of arable land per person today is equal to 0.4 acre, or a patch 40 meters by 40 meters.

By 2050, with 2 billion more in population, that tiny parcel will shrink by 30 percent.

Small? You bet. But it’s bigger than the six inches of thin and getting thinner topsoil that separates success from catastrophe if we don’t take better care of the gift we’ve been given.

We can. We must. Now. This year.

The Farm and Food File is published weekly through the U.S. and Canada. Past columns, events and contact information are posted at www.farmandfoodfile.com.

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