Farmers and scientists have long understood that what lives beneath the soil affects how crops grow. Often, they work to fight plant diseases—warding off infectious viruses and damaging fungi, for example. But now some microbiologists are focused on how to harness the good things microbes can do, with the goal of increasing farmers’ yields and diminishing their dependence on chemical inputs.
The world’s soil is in trouble. Ecologists say without dramatic changes to how we manage land, vast swathes of grassland are at risk of turning into hard-packed desert. To make sure that doesn’t happen, researchers are testing out innovative ways to keep moisture in the soil.
In eastern Colorado, one way could be in the plodding hooves of cattle.
Conventional wisdom tells you, if ranchland ground has less grass, the problem is too many cows. But that’s not always the case. It depends on how you manage them, if you make sure they keep moving.
Seth Watkins says this pond was cloudy from sediment runoff until he cleared cedar trees and scrub brush from an adjacent patch of prairie. With the long roots of the grasses holding soil and trapping nutrients, the pond cleared up.
The world’s soil is in trouble, even in the fertile Midwest. Some experts warn that if degradation continues unchecked, topsoil could be gone in 60 years. That has implications for agriculture and the broader environment.
On Friday, I left the rolling hills of Columbia, Mo., and headed northwest, to the flat farmland of Saline County. The purpose of the drive was to get a look at the priciest cropland in Missouri for a story I'm doing on how investors with no connection to farmland are increasingly interested in buying acreage in the Midwest. I had heard from farmers and real estate brokers that cropland values were at all-time highs in the Corn Belt, and incredibly many of the tracts of land are being paid for in cash.