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Full text of "The land is leaving / P.A. Grill."

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Soil erosion has been going on since the 
world began. It is this process that created oixr pres- 
ent agricultural soils. When man begins to remove the 
protective vegetation from the land, erosion talces place 
very rapidly and can destroy vast areas in only a few 
years. This did not bother the early American farmer 
for he could always move to some section that had never 
been subjected to the harsh treatment of human cultiva- 
tion. Today this is not possible and farmers are being 
confronted with a very grave problem. How can they Iceep 
their farm from being carried away by the wind and water? 
The government has been taking an important part in solv- 
ing this problem during the past ten and fifteen years. 
The Soil Conservation Service has been created and is 
engaged in carrying on all work of this type. It has a 
tremenaous job because erosion has been working unimpeded 
for many years. There are many ways that erosion may be 
stopped. The main ones are strip cropping, reforestation, 
and controlled plowing. The 'r"roblem seems to be coming 
under control but only very slowly. A Cherokee Indian 
wrote the following essay when he saw a picture of a di- 
lapidated farm house and a badly washed field: 

"Both pictures show white man crazy. Make 




"tepee . 

. Plow 


Water wash. 


blow soil, 



gone . 




too , 


chuckaway . 

No pig, Tio corn, no hay, no cow, no pony. Indian eat 
buffalo. Hide make tepee, moccasins, tor). Indian no 
malce terrace. ¥o build dam. No sive4 All time eat. \ 

Ko hunt job. No hitch-hike. No ask relief. G-reat 
Spirit make grass. Indian no waste anything. White 
man much crazy," 

The Indian seems to express both the cause and 
cure for soil erosion very well. 


The land is leaving. How many of us realize 
the seriousness of this statement? "The civilization 
of this country is founded on nine inches of top soil. 
When it is gone civilization will go with it." This is 
evident in many parts of the world. In one section of 
the French Efiger Colony in South Africa there ezists 
one of the most dreaded desert regions in the world. 
There is evidence, however, that less than 200 years ago 
this same desert section contained many farming districts 
and was heavily popiilated. Will anything like this ever 
happen to the United States? Let us seel 

We saw, just a few years ago, how the careless 
farming of vast sections brought about disaster. We all 
remember the "Dust Bowl" which covered many of the Mid- 
Western states and destroyed many acres of valueable 
farm land, some of which we are still unable to use at 
the present time. This was caused by the lack of vege- 
tation in this section. It was not until this problem 
arose that our government realized the vast job of re- 
clamation and control of soil erosion. There was no 
information to show the extensive damage caused by wind , 
rain, floods, or most important of all, carelessness. 
Here was a problem that had been growing ever since the 
United States had developed into an agricutural nation 

and yet we have just started to realize and control it. 
Just what causes erosion and why is it so serious? 

Plowing, when done improperly, leaves a bare, 
unprotected surface for the elements to work upon. The 
rain will wash it , the sun will bake it and the wind will 
dry it and blow it away. Erosion, will not occur, of 
course, if these conditions are balanced. There are dif- 
ferent types of soil erosion that occur. Sheet erosion, 
in v;hich the whole top layer of soil is removed uniformly, 
is, consequently, not very noticeable. Rill erosion is 
caused by the water concentrating in streams and washing 
small cuts in the field. Gf-ully erosion is caused by 

lar.i^e quantities of water follrwing well defined paths 


which may become as much as 100 ' [^t>;?rcca deep. Soil car- 
ried away by any of these methods can never be replaced. 
Since the average layer of top'soil, which is the most 
important in agriculture, is only about 8 inches deep, 
it does not take very long for the entire layer to be 
removed. It is estimated that in fields that are con- 
stantly cultivated this will only be lo to 51 yer-rs. It 
would take 4000 to 95 ,000 yesrs if theground were cover- 
ed with veget8.tion. In 1955 a study showed that there 
was about 414 million acres of cropland, in the United 
States. Of this, 100 million acres has been either to- 
tally or severely daiTiage by erosion. Thus, we can see 
t'lat if all these conditions continue, to exist it would 


not take verj^ lonr^ for the entire agricult-ural status of 

To Birr/?* Ptfwv 

the United States «ig^==sas:^e:s; . VSfhat are we doing to con- 
trol this national menace? 

There are many theories, some tested and some 
not, thnt have been sug^-^ested to control or stop soil 
erosion, I»lr, Edward ?aulkner I'vrote a book called "Plovj- 
man's Folly". He contends that by plowing the ground we 
expose it to the elements without any protection against 
erosion, Faulkner believes in building up the soil from 
the top down as nature does it. Instead of plowing all 
the weeds and rubbish under, he cuts it up and lets it 
decay on the surface. This method was used back in the 
1930' s in the "Dust Bowl". This has checked the destruc- 
tion of vast areas very effectively. Thie new kind of 
farming has necessitated the development of new tools. 
The implement companies are experimenting with many dif- 
ferent kinds for the realize that there will be a great 
change over to this new type of farming. The primary 
function of these machines is to cut the top layer of 
soil away from the subsoil. It also cuts the roots of 
vegetation in the field but leaves the ■^around surface 
well protected. 

Another way of controlling erosion is strip 
cropping. Thisjias its name implies, does not expose 
all of the ground surface to the elements at one time. 
The most effective type is contour stripping. In this 

method a farmer divides his fields in long narrow strips 
which follow closely the contour lines. The crops are 
alternated in these strips so that a cultivated crop is 
next to an uncultivated crop and so on. Tbis will elimi- 
nate the danger of erosion and save many acres from being 
destrojred. I have seen fields that have been continually 
cultivated and washed until there is nothin^^ but bare 
rock where once nine inches of top soil had been. An or- 
chard has been planted and the erosion has been checlced 
to a great extent. However, it is doubtful if the land 
will recover sufficiently to make it suitable for the 
growing of crops. If strip cropping had been applied to 
this area before it had been completely ruined it would 
still be productive. Most of our farmers fail to see or 
do anything about erosion until it has reached a serious 

Since the deforestation of land is condusive 
to erosion, it is only natural that reforestation is a 
means to prohibit and correct erosion. It has long been 
known that forests greatly reduce the amount of soil 
that is carried to the river and is detrimental both to 
the land and to the strea'n due to its silting effect. 
Each year the melting snows of the Middle West cause the 
Mississippi River to overflow or even flood surrounding 
farm land and towns. If these conditions are to be cor- 
rected we must control the flow of ^ water and soil to the 

river , The vast amounts of silt that settle in the river 
"bottom shallow it and thus cause it to widen and flood 
adjacent lands. If the water from the snow can be con- 
trolled by the use of proper agricultural practices , the 
floods will be largely eliminated. In Northern Missis- 
sippi in 1931 and 1952 cultivated fields were losing 34- 
tons of soil per acre while forest areas were losing 75 
pounds per acre. 

Erosion has probably reached its maximum de- 
velopment at the present time. The government had not 
taken any steps to control this situation until a few 
years ago. Now the Soil Conservation Service is one of 
the largest and most important services in the govern- 
ment. It is carrying on its work in many di'^'ferent parts 
of the United States receiving many encouraging results. 
If the American farmer will take care of his land as sug- 
gested by the men of this service, he will save both 
himself and his government many millions of dollars a 
year and the United States will be well on the way to 
bring this enormous problem to a successful termination. 


Agricultu r al Engineers , United States Department of A^gri- 
culture j pages 581 to 692 

Farmer 's Bulletin , United States Department of Agriculture, 
Number 1776 

Farmer ' s Bulletin , United States Department of Agriculture, 
Number 1917 

Readers Digest , ^eceTnber,1943, pages 35-39, 68 
^ olls an d i^en. United States Department of .igriculture, I938 
pages 581-592