Simple Definition of Soil Erosion: The erosion, or loss of, the top layer of soil (topsoil) over time. This layer of soil contains the nutrients vital for life. It forms at a rate of 1/10 mm per year, but it is estimated that globally soil is eroding at a rate of 0.4-1mm per year. That is up to 10 times the rate it is formed! How much soil erodes depends on how the land is used and maintained.
Why Is Soil Erosion Important To Understand?
Soil is the glue that holds all living things together…well it and water. Without soil you don’t have food, nor does your dog, cat, cow, pig, etc. Some meat lovers may argue they don’t need to rely on leafy plants for their sustainable nutrients, but what happens when your meat of choice runs out of food? You see, the food chain is all interconnected and leads right to the ground you stand on.
Without protecting our arable land (land able to be cultivated) we will lose it. One of the biggest problems we face globally is access to arable lands whether it is because the land that can be cultivated is diminishing physically, or it is limited by political access. The good new is we are capable of restoring it if we take the time to do it right.
To be clear I am not here to bash farming practices or cast blame. The reality is that soil erosion is a problem, but it is a problem that we have to ability to rectify if we all work together. Lets all stop pointing fingers at our neighbors and lend each other a helping hand. Below you will find what causes soil erosion and some methods that can be used to restore your land.
What Causes Soil Erosion?
Erosion occurs for several different reasons, not all to be blamed on humans. It is a natural process that has formed some of the most awe-inspiring views on Earth. Take a look at these 6 reasons for erosion and consider what you can do to save your soil.
Splash (Rain/Water) - Splash erosion occurs when rain splashes pieces of topsoil onto surrounding materials like plants or equipment. This really isn’t an issue if it ends up back on your fields, but you can say goodbye to your precious topsoil if it is blown away or pushed with runoff into a non-growable area.
Sheet (Rain) - Sheet erosion is the next phase of erosion following heavy rains. As water pools, it can loosen or pull soil particles away as a current is created. During this type of erosion, you are at risk of losing the silt particles of your soil. Silt is the type of soil known for its nutrient density and ability to easily be relocated by water. Plants such as cover crops can help prevent this type of erosion with strong root systems. Try growing a cover crop to protect your soil outside of the standard growing season.
Rill (Moving Water) - Rill erosion is also formed by water. The key characteristic of this type though is the formation made from constant moving water over time. As water is constantly moving it creates small trails that can form gullies if this path is not interrupted.
Gully (Channel of Moving Water) - Gully erosion is the step following rill erosion if it is left to worsen. Many rills (trails of water) combine to form a larger gully that is much more difficult to repair. When this stream of water dries up you are left with a rather large crack in your land.
Wind (Air) - Wind erosion occurs when the soil is dry, bare, and unprotected by vegetation. Wind erosion is one of the largest contributions to desertification and land degradation. Here in the Intermountain West we see the affects of this soil erosion all the time. Some of the best practices to reduce the affects of wind erosion include using cover crops, windbreaks (trees), and no till/minimal tilling practices.
Floodplain (Flooding) - Floodplain soil erosion is the result of large scale flooding stripping topsoil and essential nutrients from a large area. This type can be very damaging, even devastating.
How To Fix, Reduce, and Prevent Soil Erosion
Keep an eye out for our upcoming articles providing more details about these practices.