bring back the great American topsoil. But farming culture — and government— aren’t making it easy.”
forests were virtually untouched when settlers first started dividing land
into fields across the Southeast and Midwest, making for rich dark soil in
which to grow food and fiber.
Since the invention of the plow, farming has focused on disrupting the soil to make it productive. Most farming methods, whether conventional or organic, are based on “tillage” – the premise that to plant crops and
control weeds and other pests, the soil must be broken up and turned over, then amended with chemical fertilizers or organic compost to boost
fertility. And it worked for a long time.
But tilling, it turns out, kills off many of the microorganisms that build
the soil. It churns up their habitat and exposes them to air; it also makes
it easier for soil to be washed off the land by rain and wind. Over time,
the damage has built up: More than 50 percent America’s topsoil has eroded away. In areas of the Southeast, the country’s original breadbasket, it’s almost all gone.”