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The Cost of Erosion
by LuAnn Rolling, District Conservationist
Soil out of place is dirt! If it is so critical to our existence, why do we just accept it when we see wind or water erosion? It is not the wind or rain’s fault when erosion occurs. Soil erosion is a direct result of poor land management choices!

Does erosion have a cost?  All we have to do is measure the value of our topsoil.  According to Anthony Bly, SDSU Extension Soils Field Specialist, the value can be calculated in terms of lost nutrients.  His calculations show the value of 1 inch of topsoil across 1 acre is $2,967.  His results were posted in Soil Health in May of 2022.

Table 1 (above at right) shows the nutrient concentrations and monetary values for each measured parameter, considering one inch of topsoil across one acre.

According to Mahdi Al-Kaisi, agronomy professor at Iowa State University, the economic value of nutrients lost due to soil erosion is only a small indicator of the problem with far reaching effects on soil productivity. “Thus, there is continued need and an on-going effort for comprehensive soil conservation measures to improve and sustain soil health and productivity. In addition to the immediate cost of fertility loss from soil erosion, the long-term cost to society in terms water quality and other environmental risks can be significant. “

Without topsoil, our planet would be just rocks and dust with no meaningful life.  The thin layer of topsoil covering our earth gives and sustains almost all of the life we know.  Thousands of years of plowing, deforestation and erosion have left some soils in dire shape. When the soil is degraded it releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and this has serious consequences for the climate. However, healthy soil can be a major sink for carbon, meaning it actually removes carbon from the atmosphere.

The keys to maintaining our soil are to keep a living root in the soil for as long as possible, disturb the soil as little as possible, keep the soil covered at all times, try to have as many species of plants as possible and incorporate livestock.

Farm economics and increased regulations complicate the process of farming, and therefore land stewardship. While growers are understandably trying to maximize crop yield, they also need to work toward a renewed commitment to the land. Sound agronomic decisions enable environmental benefits and a better cropping system.