Research Shows We're Running Out Of Topsoil
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Research Shows We’re Running Out Of Topsoil

Research Shows We’re Running Out Of Topsoil


Walking on a field or grassy lawn, soil appears to be an abundant resource. But upon closer examination, the world is rapidly running out of arable topsoil due to harmful agricultural practices like till-farming.

In 2012, University of Sydney professor, John Crawford, estimated that 40% of arable soil is degraded and that we only have about 60 years of pristine, arable soil left. If nothing is done,  soil degradation will cause food production to drop 30% over the next few decades amidst the backdrop of an expanding world population.

A Clean Solution

Today, farmers and researchers are rapidly innovating modern farming practices in a race to save our soil. For example, no-till farming, a farming method that avoids disturbing topsoil, is gaining both popularity and economic feasibility. As of November 2017, the USDA found that 21 percent of U.S. farmers had adopted no-till methods.

More recently, the growth of modern technology in farming also offers the potential for improving soil conservation. By utilizing IOT technology and Geographic Information Systems (GIS), farmers are able to precisely analyze how much fertilizer, pesticides, or water they need to use and significantly reduce farm inputs.

Sensor data, in particular, has helped farmers detect nitrogen and moisture levels in their soil to better conserve their farmland. As technology continues to improve, soil conservation efforts will also become more effective.

The Small-Scale Alternative

The shift towards more urban and local farming also paves the way for a more sustainable agricultural future. For instance, Cornell Cooperative Extension works to drive the growth behind urban community farms. In New York and Buffalo, specialists from Cornell advise local community members who are interested in growing or selling their own food.

Across the country, fewer and fewer people are considering farming to be their main career, but increasingly, regular citizens are taking up farming as a hobby. Many families who were traditionally farmers by occupation have transitioned into owning smaller plots of land. Additionally, they’re taking on additional careers due to the uncertain profitability of farming.


While a decrease in large farms would decrease overall food production, it’s not all bad news. On the contrary, if urban and community farming gain traction, food production would unequivocally become more sustainable. After all, small and urban farms do not utilize as many soil-harming practices like tillage and heavy fertilizer usage.

Farming, the oldest profession, is rapidly changing as environmental concerns threaten global food stability. Thankfully, growing community engagement and technological innovations are helping to clean up our destructive farming practices and our soil.

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  • Have you ever wondered why the top layer of soil at the riverbank is dark? Why does it look different? Well, that’s because the upper 5 to 10 inches of soil is the special Topsoil.

    As it is the top-most layer, “O Horizon or A Horizon” are the names given to it in the soil classification system.

    The organic matter is mostly found here because the top layer is where the plant roots, stems and leaves decompose. The main two parameters on which plants thrive are carbon and nitrogen, both present in it. Other than those, there are creatures like worms and beetles living in it which when decompose, enrich the soil.

    The optimum pH for plants and crops is between 6.0 to 7.0. Good quality topsoil’s pH is between 5.5 to 7.5. This is mildly acidic to slightly alkaline. This makes sure that plants are able to extract the nutrients in the ground.

    Its quality depends upon the geographic region it is in. Fertile topsoil also has potassium, phosphorus and iron in it.

    The formation of this important top-most layer of soil is a slow process. The organic matter from decaying animals and plants combined with the weathering of rocks results in topsoil. It can take around a 100 years for one inch of topsoil. It’s very slow but worth it.

    Topsoil is proven to be the most valuable and fertile part of soil. There are a lot of benefits attached to it.

    o As it is the upper layer of soil, that’s where the plants grow. It retains water and has nutrients, both are backbones for healthy plant growth. A rich layer of topsoil guarantees healthy gardens.

    o Soil around a new house is expected to be sandy or clayey. If a thick layer of topsoil is added, it can promote healthy plant growth and result in a beautiful lawn and garden in no time.

    o A low in nutrients topsoil can be used to play the supporting role in projects like being the base for patios or changing the grade of a property.

    o Erosion is also prevented by compacted topsoil.

    o It also provides foundation for lawns and hard surfaces.

    o Its use allows the farmers to be less independent on chemical fertilizers.

    o It is also the reason for less soil and plant diseases occurring.

    o It makes your lawn healthy resulting in added drought-resistance.

    The ideal time to put it in your garden is spring. It will give your plants plenty of time to grow and nourish before the harsh cold weather takes over. While choosing topsoil, you should look for the darker soil, as the blacker the soil, the richer it is in nutrients. Hence its earthy smell is the strongest as well.

    If you were aware of how beneficial topsoil is, or if you just found out today, continue gardening. You can have a beautiful healthy and low maintenance garden, lawn or farm if you utilize this rich soil.

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