Chapter 9 - Soil and Agriculture

I. Central Case: No-Till Agriculture in Southern Brazil

A. In southernmost Brazil, decades of farming had used up the soil= s fertility and caused erosion.

B. In the 1990s, Brazil= s farmer adopted no-tillage farming.

C. With less soil eroding away and more organic material being added to it, the soil could hold more water and was better able to support crops.

D. No-till farming reduced costs to farmers who now used less labor and less fuel.


II. Soil: The Foundation for Feeding a Growing Population

A. Increasing food production sustainably is necessary if we are to feed the world= s rising human population.

1. Agriculture is the practice of cultivating soil, producing crops, and raising livestock for human use and consumption.

2. As the human population increases, so does the amount of cropland and other resources devoted to agriculture, which currently covers 38% of Earth= s land surface.

3. Rangeland, or pasture, is the land used for livestock.

4. Healthy soil is a mix of rock, organic matter, water, gases, nutrients, and microogranisms.

B. As population and consumption increase, soils are being degraded.

C. Agriculture began to appear around 10,000 years ago.

1. Traditional agriculture needed human and animal muscle power, hand tools, and simple machines.

D. Industrialized agriculture is newer still.

1. The industrial revolution introduced large-scale fossil fuel combination and mechanization, leading to industrialized agriculture.

2. For maximum efficiency, the new agriculture required the uniform planting of a single crop, or monoculture.

3. The green revolution applied technology to boost crop yields in developing nations.

III. Soil as a System

A. Soil formation is slow and complex.

1. Parent material is the base geological material in a location. It may be composed of volcanic deposits, glacier deposits, sediments from wind or water, or bedrock.

2. The weathering of parent material is the first step in the formation of soil.

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3. Weathering takes place through the physical, chemical, and biological processes that break down rocks and minerals.

4. Erosion, the process of moving soil from one area to another, may contribute to the formation of soil in one locality even as ti depletes topsoil from another.

B. Soil can be characterized by color, texture, structure, and pH.

1. U.S. soil scientists have classified soils into 12 major groups, based largely on the processes thought to form them.

2. Soil color is an indicator of soil composition and sometimes soil fertility.

3. Soil texture is determined by the size of particles and is the basis on which the USDA assigns soils to one of three general categories:

a. Clay consists of particles less than 0.002 mm in diameter.

b. Silt consists of particles 0.002 - 0.05 mm in diameter.

c. Sand is particles 0.05 - 2 mm in diameter.

d. Soil with an even mix of these particle sizes is called loam.

4. Soil structure is a measure of the arrangement of sand, silt, or clay particles into clumps, or aggregates.

5. Soil pH is the degree of acidity or alkalinity, which influences its ability to support plant growth.

C. Regional differences in soil traits can affect agriculture.

IV. Soil Degradation: Problems and Solutions

A. Erosion can degrade ecosystems and agriculture.

B. Soil erodes by various mechanisms.

1. These include wind erosion and four types of water erosion: splash, sheet, rill, and gully.

C. Soil erosion is a global problem.

D. Arid land may lose productivity by desertification.

1. Desertification is a loss of more than 10% productivity due to soil erosion, soil compaction, forest removal, overgrazing, drought, salinization, climate change, depletion of water sources, or an array of other factors.

E. The Dust Bowl was a monumental event in the United States.

1. Large-scale cultivation of the southern Great Plains of the United States, combined with a drought in the 1930s, led to dust storms, destroying the land and affecting human health in the Dust Bowl.

F. The Soil Conservation Service pioneered measures to slow soil degradation.

1. Conservation districts within each county promoted soil-conservation practices.

G. Farmers can protect soil against degradation in various ways.

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1. Crop rotation is the practice of alternating the kind of crop grown in a particular field from one season or year to the next.

2. Contour farming consists of plowing furrows along the natural contours of the land.

3. The planting of alternating bands of different crops across a slope is called intercropping.

4. Terracing, cutting level platforms into hillsides, is used on extremely steep terrain.

5. Shelterbelts are rows of trees that are planted along the edges of fields to break the wind.

6. With conservation, or reduced, tillage, plowing is bypassed as an approach to soil conservation.

H. Protecting and restoring plant cover is the theme of most erosion-control practices.

I. Irrigation has boosted productivity but has also caused long-term soil problems.

1. Crops that require a great deal of water can be grown with irrigation, artificial provision of water.

2. Soils too saturated with water may experience waterlogging, which damages both soil and roots.

3. An even more frequent problem is salinization, the buildup of salts in surface soil layers.

J. Salinization is easier to prevent than to correct.

K. Agricultural fertilizers boost crop yields but can be overapplied.

1. Nutrient depletion creates a need for fertilizers containing nutrients.

2. Inorganic fertilizers are mined or synthetically manufactured mineral supplements.

3. Organic fertilizers consists of natural materials.

L. Grazing practices and policies can contribute to soil degradation.

M. Forestry, too, has impacts on soils.

N. A number of U.S. and international programs promote soil conservation.

V. Conclusion

A. Many policies enacted and practices followed in the United States and worldwide have been quite successful in reducing erosion.

B. Many challenges remain; better technologies and wider adoption of soil conservation techniques are needed to avoid a food crisis.







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