PRESS-NEWS.org - Press Release Distribution
PRESS RELEASES DISTRIBUTION

Saving our soil: How to extend US breadbasket fertility for centuries

New research from UMass Amherst shows that the rapid and unsustainable rate of topsoil erosion can be drastically reduced with no-till agricultural methods already in practice

Saving our soil: How to extend US breadbasket fertility for centuries
2023-05-25
(Press-News.org) May 25, 2023

 

Saving Our Soil: How to Extend US Breadbasket Fertility for Centuries

New research from UMass Amherst shows that the rapid and unsustainable rate of topsoil erosion can be drastically reduced with no-till agricultural methods already in practice

AMHERST, Mass. – The Midwestern United States has lost 57.6 billion tons of topsoil due to farming practices over the past 160 years, and the rate of erosion, even following the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s guidelines, is still 25 times higher than the rate at which topsoil forms. Yet, we need not despair: researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst recently reported in the journal Earth’s Future that no-till farming, which is currently practiced on 40 percent of cropland acres in the Midwest, can extend our current level of soil fertility for the next several centuries. This has implications for everything from food security to climate-change mitigation.

The vast majority of the food we all eat is grown in topsoil, that carbon-rich, black earth that nurtures everything from watermelons to brussels sprouts. What most of us call topsoil, scientists call A-horizon soil, and these A-horizon soils, whose fertility has developed over eons, are susceptible to erosion.

“When most people think of erosion, they think wind or water,” says Jeffrey Kwang, currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Minnesota who completed this research as part of his postdoctoral studies in Isaac Larsen’s Geomorphology Research Group at UMass Amherst and is lead author of the paper. “It turns out that the far greater driver of soil erosion in the midwestern U.S. has been conventional agriculture.”

But what that current rate of erosion is has been very difficult to pin down precisely, though, as the Geomorphology Research Group has shown over the past few years, soil erosion in the U.S.’s breadbasket is far greater, and occurring at a far faster rate, than had previously been suspected.

 

A brief history of soil loss in the Midwest

Since 2021, members of Larsen’s research group, including Kwang, Evan Thaler, Caroline Quarrier and others, have been breaking new ground in the world of soil science.

The group’s initial study showed that more than one-third of the Corn Belt in the Midwest—nearly 30 million acres—has completely lost its carbon-rich topsoil, that rich A-horizon layer. Furthermore, the team showed that the erosion was likely due to contemporary tillage practices, in which plows are dragged through fields, moving topsoil from higher to lower elevations. Unfortunately, the USDA’s own assessments don’t include erosion due to tillage, and so the agency has missed a major driver of erosion.

A year later, the team discovered that the Midwest has lost 57.6 billion metric tons of soil since Euro-American cultivation of the region began, approximately 160 years ago. This historical rate of loss, which is mostly due to tillage, is nearly double the rate which the USDA considers sustainable.

Finally, the team recently showed that Midwestern soil is eroding between 10 and 1,000 times faster than it did in the pre-agricultural era, and that the USDA’s current upper-limit of sustainable erosion—1 mm per year—is an average of 25 times more than what is actually sustainable.

 

Modelling the future

“We already discovered how the history of erosion in the U.S. has shaped our present reality,” says Isaac Larsen, associate professor of earth, geographic and climate sciences at UMass Amherst and the paper’s senior author. “But what’s going to happen in the future?”

For this latest research, Kwang, Larsen and the Geomorphology Research Group relied on the insights of their earlier work into historical rates of erosion to predict future scenarios. Their first breakthrough was to finally determine the current rate of tillage-driven soil erosion. It turns out that the Midwest loses 1.1 kilograms of soil and 12 grams of soil organic carbon (SOC) per square meter every year, which far outpaces the rate at which new topsoil is created.

But no one knows what the future will look like. “Since we don’t know how farming practices and policy will change,” Larsen says, “we’ve used the current erosion rate to model a few different future scenarios.”

“We looked at the current business-as-usual method, under which approximately 40% of the midwestern U.S.’s acres are no-till farmed, all the way up to 100% adoption of no-till methods. We then modelled the erosional rates under each scenario for the next century,” says Kwang.

Their initial finding was that, if the U.S.’s current agricultural practices remain largely unchanged, approximately 8.8 billion metric tons of soil and 170 million metric tons of soil organic carbon will be lost over the next century alone.

When the team modelled the impact of a 100% no till scenario, the picture turned rosier. Much rosier.

“Approximately 95% of the erosion we see under the business-as-usual scenario over the next century would be prevented,” Kwang says.

Put another way, the soil savings are so significant that if the U.S. adopts no-till practices now, it would take 10,000 years to see the same level of soil and SOC loss that would occur in only a century if our agricultural practices do not change.

Furthermore, the rate of loss decreases over time: the more soil and SOC there is, the faster we lose it, and the rates of loss taper off as there’s less to lose. “This means there’s real incentive to act now,” says Kwang, “when we’ll see the most long-term benefit.”

 

Soil and climate

It’s no surprise that topsoil is crucial for agriculture; but most forecasts for greenhouse gas emission and plans for climate mitigation also need to account for topsoil loss, because soil is the largest pool of terrestrial carbon. Scientists hypothesize that accelerated soil erosion alters this carbon pool enough to influence the global carbon cycle. However, Kwang says, “most models that look at soil and its effect on climate don’t account for erosion rates slowing down over time. We need to get this right if we’re to prepare effectively for the future—and know we have a rate that can help inform predictions of what the future climate might be.”

 

Contacts: Isaac Larsen, ilarsen@umass.edu

                 Jeffrey Kwang, kwang004@umn.edu

                 Daegan Miller, drmiller@umass.edu

 

END


[Attachments] See images for this press release:
Saving our soil: How to extend US breadbasket fertility for centuries Saving our soil: How to extend US breadbasket fertility for centuries 2 Saving our soil: How to extend US breadbasket fertility for centuries 3

ELSE PRESS RELEASES FROM THIS DATE:

Running throughout middle age keeps ‘old’ adult-born neurons ‘wired’

Running throughout middle age keeps ‘old’ adult-born neurons ‘wired’
2023-05-25
Aging often is accompanied by cognitive decline. Among the first structures of the brain affected are the hippocampus and adjacent cortices, areas essential for learning and memory. Deficits in cognitive ability are associated with reduced hippocampal volume and degradation of synaptic connectivity between the hippocampus and the (peri)-entorhinal cortex.  Increasing evidence indicates that physical activity can delay or prevent these structural and functional reductions in older adults. A new study by Florida Atlantic University and CINVESTAV, Mexico City, Mexico, provides novel insight into the benefits of exercise, which should motivate ...

Afternoon exercise linked with greater improvements in blood sugar levels for patients with type 2 diabetes

2023-05-25
Over 37 million Americans have diabetes, and 90-95% of that population are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Lifestyle interventions, such as a healthy diet and a regular physical activity program, are methods to manage diabetes. A new study from a collaboration of investigators at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a founding member of the Mass General Brigham healthcare system, and Joslin Diabetes Center, part of Beth Israel Lahey Health, uses data from the Look AHEAD (Action for Health in Diabetes) study, a randomized controlled trial that compared an intensive lifestyle intervention with diabetes support and education in patients diagnosed ...

Your thoughts can harm your neck and back during lifting tasks

2023-05-25
COLUMBUS, Ohio – The mental distress of cognitive dissonance – encountering information that conflicts with how we act or what we believe – can lead to added pressure on the neck and low back during lifting and lowering tasks, new research suggests. When study participants were told they were performing poorly in a precision lowering experiment in the lab, after initially being told they were doing well, their movements were linked to increased loads on vertebrae in their neck and low back. Results showed that the higher the cognitive dissonance score, the greater the extent of loading on the upper ...

Tens of thousands of lives a year could be saved by new treatment protocol for brain hemorrhage

2023-05-25
The George Institute for Global Health today announced data from the phase III INTERACT3 study demonstrating that a new combination of treatments for stroke due to intracerebral haemorrhage (ICH) significantly improves the chances of surviving without major disability. Results were presented today at the European Stroke Organisation Conference in Munich, Germany, and simultaneously published in The Lancet. The INTERACT3 study is the first-ever randomised controlled trial to show a clearly positive outcome for the treatment of ICH. Timely administration of the new treatment protocol – known as a Care Bundle – centred on the rapid control of ...

Electricity cheaper than diesel for heavy goods vehicles

Electricity cheaper than diesel for heavy goods vehicles
2023-05-25
In the past, it was considered unprofitable to electrify heavy goods vehicles that transport cargo over long distances. But now researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have shown that it can be cheaper to run heavy goods vehicles on electricity than on diesel. ‘I myself am surprised by the results and hope that more haulage companies and heavy goods vehicle manufacturers will be willing to invest in electrification now that we have shown that it can be cost-effective,’ says Johannes Karlsson, Doctoral student in Automatic Control Engineering at Chalmers. The transition ...

100 kW hydrogen fuel cell - digital twin in operation - using green hydrogen and waste plastic hydrogen

100 kW hydrogen fuel cell - digital twin in operation - using green hydrogen and waste plastic hydrogen
2023-05-25
The Tokyo Tech InfoSyEnergy Research and Education Consortium, the Tokyo Tech Academy of Energy and Informatics (Head of Consortium and Academy Director Manabu Ihara, Prof.), and several companies such as Toshiba Corporation and Toshiba Energy Systems & Solutions Corporation are jointly developing a platform "100 kW hydrogen fuel cell - digital twin" for optimizing the design and control of a 100 kw hydrogen fuel cell that seeks to balance carbon neutrality and economic advantage by mixing renewable energy hydrogen/waste ...

Study shows children may consider past choices when judging others

2023-05-25
A new study published in the journal Child Development from researchers at Boston College in Massachusetts, USA and the University of Queensland in Australia explores whether four- to nine-year-old-children consider past choices when making moral judgements of others. The findings showed that from the age of six, children considered what characters could have done when making judgement of how nice or mean they are behaving and that four and five- year-olds’ moral judgements were influenced only by ...

Study shows dementia risk increases the younger a person develops diabetes

2023-05-25
New research published in Diabetologia (the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes [EASD]) shows an association between type 2 diabetes (T2D) and developing dementia in later life – with the risk of dementia increasing the earlier a person develops T2D. The study is by PhD student Jiaqi Hu and Professor Elizabeth Selvin of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD, USA, and colleagues. Their study investigated the association between prediabetes and dementia. Prediabetes is an intermediate stage of high blood sugar, where blood sugar is high but has not yet crossed the threshold for T2D. Prediabetes ...

Nearly 70% of private label avocado oil rancid or mixed with other oils

2023-05-25
Avocado oil has become a popular choice for many people in recent years because of its heart-healthy benefits and versatility in cooking. However, not all avocado oil products on store shelves are created equal. Some products are labeled as “pure” avocado oil when they contain other oils or additives. No enforceable standards defining the chemical and physical characteristics of avocado oil exist yet. Researchers at the University of California, Davis, analyzed samples of 36 private label avocado oil products and graded them based on quality and purity. Private label products are made by a third-party processor and sold under a grocery store or retailer brand label. Their ...

Study finds ketamine is at least as effective as ECT for treating major depression

2023-05-25
A new study led by investigators from Mass General Brigham has found that subanesthetic intravenous ketamine was effective and not inferior to electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for the treatment of non-psychotic, treatment-resistant depression. Their results are published in the New England Journal of Medicine. “ECT has been the gold standard for treating severe depression for over 80 years,” said Amit Anand, MD, director of Psychiatry Translational Clinical Trials at Mass General Brigham and Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “But it is also a controversial treatment because it can cause memory ...

LAST 30 PRESS RELEASES:

Quantum computing will radically alter the application of copyright law, study says

Ochsner Health & Wellness Day in New Orleans East set for March 9

Protecting joints from bacteria with mussels

Researchers investigate immune response of a man who received 217 Covid vaccinations

Proceed with caution – the meteoric rise of zero-alcohol drinks

USC collaborates with startup supporter Techstars to encourage intellectual property development

Who military service members see as credible to discuss secure firearm storage for suicide prevention

Low birthweight coupled with overweight in 20s linked with ‘massive risk’ of early type 2 diabetes in men

DNA aptamer drug sensors can instantly detect cocaine, heroin and fentanyl – even when combined with other drugs

New project will use next-gen at-home rapid test to track COVID-19, RSV, and flu

SRI relaunches the PARC Forum event series as it celebrates the first anniversary of acquiring the storied Palo Alto Research Center

An inside look at Beech tree disease

New AI model draws treasure maps to diagnose disease

Breastfeeding after COVID-19 booster can give babies antibodies

Researchers closing in on genetic treatments for hereditary lung disease, vision loss

COVID-19 associated with increased risk for autoimmune inflammatory rheumatic diseases up to a year after infection

UC Irvine receives $15 million NSF grant for integrative movement research

University of Houston engineer Metin Akay featured in study highlighting 50 scientists' contributions to biomedical engineering advancements

JWST captures the end of planet formation

Good news—MS drugs taken while breastfeeding may not affect child development

Programs intended to reduce health insurance premiums may make coverage less affordable for the middle class

PrEP discontinuation in a US national cohort of sexual and gender minority populations, 2017–22

USC Study: Medicare Part D plans increased restrictions on drug coverage

Sacituzumab govitecan plus platinum-based chemotherapy in breast, bladder, and lung carcinomas

Global study unveils "problematic" use of porn

Newly discovered protein prevents DNA triplication

Less ice in the arctic ocean has complex effects on marine ecosystems and ocean productivity

Antarctica’s coasts are becoming less icy

New research shows migrating animals learn by experience

Modeling the origins of life: New evidence for an “RNA World”

[Press-News.org] Saving our soil: How to extend US breadbasket fertility for centuries
New research from UMass Amherst shows that the rapid and unsustainable rate of topsoil erosion can be drastically reduced with no-till agricultural methods already in practice