To many, caring for the soil is an intangible, higher calling befitting Monks and Nuns and really isn’t the main focus of large scale agriculture. Bushels per acre or pounds per acre of marketable product is the end game. And in a sense, neither party is “wrong” per se.
But to that end, we must dig deeper; pun intended. If you read our most recent blog post “It’s more than just moving animals,” you will see just how connected everything about our world is to the land. Our greatest challenge lies therein: getting people wholly removed from a care for the weather beyond their own comfort and developing a personal connection to the land. How do we get people to care when everything about regenerative agriculture seems so expensive in comparison to our cheat code, death chemical counterpart? Let’s talk money – the universal language.
Soil Organic Matter (SOM) used to be between 6 to 8 percent in much of the plains states of the US. Now, those levels are around 2 percent. If we take the lower end of their previous state, that is a loss of 4% SOM. Doesn’t seem like a lot, does it? Let’s show you just how much impact this has on everything about our world.
Per acre, a 4% loss in soil organic matter assumingly from only a 6 inch profile (impossible not to effect even deeper into the soil so these number pail in comparison to what we have really done) means we have lost the ability to retain 100,000 gallons per acre. Let me rephrase: where the soil used to hold 150,000 gallons per acre, it now only holds 50,000. Per acre. PER ACRE! Those of you familiar with the East Fork Watershed, that is an area roughly 320,000 acres. A lake plagued by constant algae blooms and nasty looking water could really benefit from a more steady supply of water in the streams. But during rains, if the East Fork Watershed lost the same amount of organic matter, that means the land is able to absorb 32 billion gallons of water less. The function of soil to not only to grow plants. It absorbs rain fall and filters water. It is a sponge. Poor soil is a poor sponge. Poor soil is a poor filter. So during rain events, if the rain can’t be absorbed into the soils, more water runs off dirtier than it should be carrying top soil with it and leaves the land parched.
If the land is holding less water, the ground temperature and therefore the air fluctuates more. Dry land becomes hotter and hotter much faster. Ever walked on a sand dune? During the day? How about after the sun goes down and temps plummet? We can go on and on about climate change all we want but we have to understand poor land management causes deserts and climate change, not the other way around as so many believe. Again, look to Las Damas Ranch in the Chihuahuan Desert. Through holistic grazing, they have revitalized the soil’s natural water holding capacity and continue to build it to this day. They have re-greened the desert in such a way as to get rainfall their neighbors do not. How is that possible? Water wants to go where water is. If the ground is parched, there is little to no evaporation going on. Without evaporation, the rain clouds move on needing just a little more umph to actually reach a tipping point to rain. Or in the case of Las Damas Ranch, the land is able to get those clouds to reach a tipping point as they move over his land but almost immediately after passing to a neighbor’s property, the rain stops.
https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/07/16/world/europe-flooding-germany What about the opposite effect? Humid areas are seeing more and more rainfall. Look at the recent unprecendented flooding in Germany. And no, this flooding is not caused by climate change directly. There is a crap ton of extra water that has been added to the large water cycles around the water due to melting polar ice caps and horribly degraded soils. That water has to go somewhere and much to our dismay, it isn’t just going to kindly fall on the desert. It doesn’t want to rain in the desert. It wants to unleash where there is already water.
Which brings us to our next point: the absurdity of criminalizing the building of catchment and retention ponds in arid environments. See this story: https://www.foxnews.com/real-estate/man-jailed-for-collecting-rainwater-in-illegal-reservoirs-on-his-property Arid environments can largely be defined as areas of the world that get the vast majority of their rain in a single season. If the ground is already saturated in an area and more rain falls, you have run off. Many of these places have laws regarding water uses for landscapes and agriculture. What if these places encouraged people to build retention ponds up high on the landscape and gravity fed their water for whatever purposes? Not only would those ponds fill up with the excess water that would be non existent during the dry months, but the land immediately below the pond would be more saturated year round and they wouldn’t need to use the water meant for “others downstream.” You would also get MORE RAIN if enough people held water on their land. The idea of building pipes to transport water from wet environments to arid environments is absurd. We just need better land managers.
There have been numerous satellite images taken of the coast of Australia. Some parts are agricultural and tilled on the coast with rangeland moving inland. Others are rangeland right on the coast. Clouds form over the rangeland weather on the coast or inland. Why? The rangeland soils still have native plants evapotraspirating (breathing out water) and have an active water cycle. The cultivated soil we have made bare often is planted in soils that have been tilled, destroying most soil life like bacteria and fungi. In the brutal direct sun, the soil life can’t exist near the soil’s surface and root zone. Therefore, organic material can’t break down. Again, nutrients wasted. Without fungi whose hairs have the ability to stretch for miles and miles on a single specimen, water is extremely hard to come by and what does hit the surface either runs off immediately due to capping or evaporates. Capping is an environments answer to protecting the soil surface in the absence of animals hooves. Even in humid environments, we often see dried up mud puddles that look like the surface of mars. Pour what on the area and what happens? If it is an indentation, initially the water just sits on the top. It could take hours for the water to soften the hard surface clay. Now imagine that was a rain event in the desert. On just the little East Fork Water shed, that is a massive amount of run off.
Does this picture look like a place that gets a lot of rain? Does it look like we could ever grow corn in a place like that? No? We could surely raise livestock and if managed well, could improve the soil, retain water and create more habitat for wildlife. But we digress…
How many of you reading this have heard of the Ogallala aquifer? The largest in the country. It’s days are limited because we took what the bison built in concert with a massive multitude of diversity in plants and other animals, got rid of all the above and planted non native species that need special care and often need watered in the dry months. The system before our hubris supported more life than we can fathom but somehow this new system is “more efficient.” “Animals are bad. Meat is unhealthy. Eat whole grains. Eat less fat. Sugar is ok. Eat more whole grains. Heart healthy whole grains. Lower your cholesterol. Eat oatmeal and not red meat.” Do you see that we as a population are any healthier than before this horrible diet advice? Is our land in better shape? Are the wild animals thriving? How about the weather? Is the weather more extreme? People are only going to care when entire cities have to relocate when their precious underground water is gone. We must act before that.
So many support the amazing missions Zoos have around the world. They donate soo much money. And their missions of education and preservation and protection and rejuvenation of threatened species are vital to our existence on this planet. We really really don’t want our great grandkids to only experience manatees in books. They are here. Now. They are deing now. Dieing at record rates. WHAT IS IT GOING TO TAKE! No matter how much we donate to zoos, if the way we grows food hurts the water ways, it will hurt the manatees. It hurts everything. Everything is connected.
If the heart tug of saving such a magical creature doesn’t move you to action, maybe your keeping more of your hard earned money could. How many times do we have tax hikes because of flooding? 32 billion additional gallons flowing down the river sure would put a beating on every bridge crossing those rivers. What about secondary and tertiary affects? All that extra water leads to more flooding. More flooding leads to more insurance claims which makes flood insurance more and more expensive. Almost every week we hear of another 500 year weather event. What about storm damage in general? Softball sized hail and multiple tornadoes. Inches and Inches of rain fell. Home insurance is a for-profit business. They can’t make money without raising prices to cover all the weather related damages. I bet if we could get some of the bigger insurance companies in America to read this blog post, they would see they have a vested interest in making sure the land is better taken care of. Do you really think if they were able to make the connection of how we care for the land is leading to more cost to them that we would really still advocate for whole grains and confinement animals?
Everyone’s pet peeve: road construction…. Mwhahahaha. Some of the hardest places to build roads is in temperate regions of the US that experience all four seasons. Cincinnati experiences many extremely hot days and more often lately, extremely cold days. How do you build a road for both extremes? Our weather becomes more and more extreme each day. Our roads are stressed.
Jumping all around now. What about recreation? How much money has Clermont County OH lost out on because Bass Masters passes up holding tournaments at East Fork lake because of unclean water? Is it in the millions? Are we approaching a billion dollars between all lost recreational activity in the last 10 years?
Last and most importantly: our health. I hate to say it but cholesterol is a necessary part of our bodily systems. Dietary cholesterol is crucial for those of us who are active. Cholesterol consumed doesn’t equal cholesterol in the body, no matter what an Ivy League professor stuck in the 70s dietary advice says. Grass-fed meats are anti-inflammatory. While it really amounts to very little actually consumed, the fat in grass-fed meat has a much more favorable Omega 3 – 6 fatty acid profile. Where oh where if you believe in evolution would our ancestors have eaten seeds like wheat and canola? Sure they consumed carbs in the form of nuts like chestnuts and tubers. Natural sugar was bountiful in perennial fruits. We consumed meat; A huge variety of meat. We consumed meat of a wide array of ages and species. We ate organ meats extremely high in nutrients like iron. How many people today are iron deficient? How many of those people refuse to eat beef? Beef liver? Our collective health is absolutely atrocious. Look at old videos. How many people were overweight in the 40s and 50s? 60s? I am wildly guilty of being addicted to sugar. Gluten and I are best friends. I am stressed and have very little time to make a multi course healthy meal despite raising all this really nutritious meat. How many people are in the same boat? Parents often can’t make ends meet anymore with only one income. Both parents working outside the house and eating whatever fast food is convenient. If our meal isn’t ready in less than 3 minutes, we become outraged and demand to speak to a manager. How expensive has health insurance become because of this? For many, it costs more just to give their children medical care than it does to provide them with a roof over their head. This is wrong.
And I am not saying the government needs to pay for everything. I am saying the government needs to pull all support for agriculture that ruins soil. It should nearly be a crime to damage our soils; our legacy. But no need for any sort of fine. That fine naturally exists in lowered profits and a degraded or completely unavailable thing to pass to the next generation. Now, there should be fines levied for putting poison on your ground. We all agree genocide, homicide and suicide are horrible things. So why are we ok with even more detain our food production to give us food that slowly kills us anyway? PestiCIDE, herbiCIDE, fungiCIDE. We have got to be the dumbest intelligent species on the face of this planet and until we get someone in office to tie all this together at the highest levels of our government change will come very slowly by each of our decision to put something more wholesome on our plates.
How the heck do I know what food is doing right by the environment? Good question. Go to the farms. Is their soil doing better each year? Do the streams on their farm look cleaner and fuller? Are there more birds and spiders or less? Do you see carcinogens on their supply shelves or do you see compost piles/windrows?
Please if anyone has any questions or comments, please reach out.