Soil is one of our most precious natural resources and it needs to be protected. Globally, up to 50,000 square kilometers – an area around the size of Costa Rica – is lost every year, primarily through soil erosion1.
Land degradation has a variety of consequences, including food shortages and damage to ecosystems. One of the regions that will be hardest hit is Africa, where the United Nations estimates two-thirds of crop land could be lost if current trends continue2.
This loss of soil productivity and plant cover is primarily caused by unsustainable agricultural practices such as intensive tillage and climate conditions such as prolonged drought. Fortunately, we can look to plant science for solutions. By using biotechnology and crop protection products, farmers can employ conservation agriculture, a tillage practice that can preserve soil moisture and greatly reduce soil erosion.
Farmers are adopting conservation agriculture practices – also called no-till or minimum till – at a dramatic rate in some parts of the world. In Argentina, for example, the introduction of herbicide-tolerant soybeans increased no-till adoption from about 33 percent to more than 80 percent between 1996 and 2008 and that growers tilled the field 58% less3.
By taking fewer passes over the field with cultivating equipment to control weeds, farmers can ensure topsoil and soil moisture stays where it’s needed – in the field, instead of being lost to evaporation, wind or water erosion.
Among Canadian farmers planting herbicide-tolerant canola using zero and minimal tillage practices, 86 percent have reduced soil erosion and 83 percent indicated greater soil moisture4. And in the U.S., soil losses over the past two decades have been reduced by 69 percent per bushel of corn, 50 percent per bushel of wheat and 49 percent per bushel of soybeans. Using herbicides to control weeds in the U.S. is estimated to reduce soil erosion by 356 billion pounds each year5.
There is hope for the future of this precious resource with a continued commitment to sustainable agriculture practices. Through years of conservation tillage it is possible to rebuild soil. In fact, studies have shown that organic matter can increase by as much as 1,800 pounds per acre per year under long-term no-till production6.