A couple months ago, waiting for my plane to take off, I found a lost National Geographic Magazine in the front seat pocket. With a lot of time ahead and not much to do, I decided to enjoy the eye-catching pictures you usually find inside. But, there was an article that caught my attention for most of the flight.
Traveling around the world, NatGeo journalist Charles C. Mann studied the way people take care of their soil to survive, and how human behavior can impact present and future generations. There are several ways of wasting our resources and human beings have been doing all of them. Regarding the soil, hundreds of thousands of America’s finest cropland acres are being destroyed by compaction–a process that takes place when livestock and heavy machinery compress the soil, causing it to lose pore space, reducing harvest and making Midwestern U.S. farmers lose $ 100 million in revenue every year.
When the soil has been compacted, roots can’t penetrate it and water can’t drain and runs off–causing erosion that can take years or decades to be reversed.
This process is a consequence of tillage. U.S. farmers have been tilling their fields to prepare soil by plowing, ripping or turning it for hundreds of years, but the introduction of tractors in the 1900s made modern and large-scale agriculture possible. Since then, our soil has been plowed over and over every year, converting this profitable activity into an environmental issue.
The use of tilling machinery in conventional agriculture inverts soil layers–mixing air into the soil and increasing microbial activity dramatically over baseline levels. When that happens, soil organic matter is broken down quickly and carbon is lost into the atmosphere, which–combined to the emissions from farm equipment itself–intensify the greenhouse effect, or global warming.
The introduction of genetically modified (GM) crops in the last decade made no-till farming possible. Biotech developed crops are resistant to the use of readily biodegradable herbicides, like glyphosate. Herbicides–when used in combination with crops that were genetically modified to resist their action–kill the weeds that compete with crops for the limited soil nutrients available. This increases the crop’s yield dramatically and in a safe way, since these herbicides are degraded by microbes and fungi in the soil or in surface water.
Thanks to the implementation of herbicide programs, the use of mechanical machinery is diminished, leaving the soil intact while all crop residues are left on the field–conserving soil structure in its natural way, slowing and sometimes stopping field carbon loss.
In addition, no-till farming increases soil quality, protecting it from water erosion and structural breakdown. Crop residues limit evaporation–conserving water for plant growth by helping water infiltrate the soil where it can be used.
Finally, less tillage of the soil reduces labor, and related fuel and machinery costs. This means important economic benefits for farmers, in addition to the monetary grants and awards that are becoming available to those who reduce their tillage activity.
In 1991, the International Soil Reference and Information Centre estimated humankind has degraded more than 7.5 million square miles of land, “trashing an area the size of the United States and Canada combined.” By 2030, Earth’s population will reach 8.3 billion people and to feed them “farmers will have to grow 30 percent more grain than they do now.”
Only 11 percent of the world’s land is used to produce food for the world population. It is time to understand the only way to survive as a species is taking care of our resources and spreading positive activities like no-tillage around the world.
10 Reasons We Do Need GM Foods
- Why we need GM Foods
- Helping a Thirsty World
- It is about improving nutrition
- The World is Bigger Than Your House
Santiago is a Manager of Public Affairs at Monsanto. He was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations, post-graduate studies in Social Communication & Media and an MBA in Marketing Management. Prior to working at Monsanto, Santiago taught PR for almost seven years while working as a Communications Advisor for several organizations and industries. He also worked for a multi-national IT company and an Oil & Gas company as PR Manager.