Soil Erosion

Of all the natural resources we have in the world, we would all starve without soil.  The soil has just the right properties for plants to grow and produce fruit, grain, or fiber.  I really do not think that many people ever think about just how important the soil is.  I work for an agency called the Soil Conservation Service and it is our job to work with farmers to conserve soil and preventing it from eroding. 

Soil loss due to water erosion reduces crop yields. Managing your soil and water resources is the best way to prevent soil from being washed away. This broadcast describes ways to maintain successful crop production while protecting soil and water quality.

Snowmelt and rainfall are the driving forces for water erosion. Bare soils are very vulnerable to erosion. Steep slopes and long, uninterrupted slopes are especially prone to water erosion. Silty soils, soils low in organic matter, and soils with an impermeable subsoil layer are also more susceptible to water erosion.

Before any erosion can take place small pieces of soil has to be detached from larger pieces of soil.  I have heard a story of how this happens.  Imagine a freshly plowed field.  The next thing you know a rainstorm approaches and begins to rain.  A single raindrop does not have a lot of power, but many raindrops have a much greater combined power.  I wonder how many rain drops it would take to produce a 5 centimeter rain?  Each of these rain drops are like little bombs impacting the soil and this will cause the soil to become detached and prone to erosion.

Soil erosion can occur in several ways.  You have all seen gullies and ditches cut through fields.  This is where a great deal of soil is lost and usually leaves a field very difficult to farm.  I can remember a field that I used to farm.  A small ditch formed early in the year and then we had several weeks of wet whether.  By the time I was able to get back in the fields this small ditch was so deep and wide I could no longer farm that part of the field.

But there is another type of erosion that probably causes more damage to your fields.  This is when erosion takes a very thin layer of topsoil from the soil surface.  You will not even notice it being gone.  Let me give you an example.  Lets say you have a one-hectare field and you are losing one millimeter of soil every year.  This does not sound like much soil, but this is the loss of 11,000 kilograms of soil every year.  Not only is this a lot of soil it is also the most productive soil.

This type of erosion may not be very dramatic, but it is just as destructive.  The main reason this type of erosion is so destructive is because you do not even see it happening.  This is exactly how Satan works.

Satan is not a prominent person in the Bible. He is introduced early in the Scriptures and consistently represented as both the adversary of God and of men.  Listen to these four passages, which depict Satan as the adversary.

Now the serpent (Satan) was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, lest you die.’” And the serpent said to the woman, “You surely shall not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:1-5).

Man was put in charge of the garden. So far as we can tell, Satan had no authority, no part in the rule of God over the creation.  From the beginning Satan is trying to trick us and keep us from God. 

Satan’s character and conduct does not change; they only intensify.  Satan’s purpose is always the same: he seeks to exalt himself above God by opposing God and men. While his goals are always the same, his methods differ greatly. We see this in the way Satan opposed our Lord Jesus at the time of His first coming.

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Satan. And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.’” (Matthew 4:1-4).

Unlike Satan, Jesus was intent on doing the will of the Father and not acting independently. Jesus, unlike Satan, was willing to humble Himself, even to the point of death, to fulfill God’s purpose of providing the only means for man’s forgiveness and eternal life. Our Lord’s submission to the will of God was the basis for our Lord’s victory in the wilderness, as well as His victory at the cross over Satan, sin, and death.

Satan opposes the Gospel by seeking to keep men from salvation in Jesus Christ.  Jesus tells this story:

“Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God. And those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they may not believe and be saved” (Luke 8:11-12).

Have you heard?  God loves you and wants to have a personal relationship with you.  This relationship can only happen though God’s Son Jesus.  In this passage it says that the “devil comes and takes away the word form their heart, so that they may not believe and be saved”.  In my life I have taken the seed (God’s Word) and allowed it to grow in my heart, and I have been greatly blessed.

The devil is always looking for opportunities to prevent people from believing in God’s word and for opportunities to attack Christians.  The following passage warns us and encourages us:

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you (1 Peter 5:8-10).

God’s wrath is justified when men break His laws. Even more, God’s wrath is justified when He provides for man’s forgiveness and men reject it. God is not severe just in His dealings with sinners; He is also gracious, compassionate, and long-suffering with sinners. Graciously, God sent His own Son to the cross of Calvary. There, Jesus bore the wrath of God. He was punished, not for His sins, but for the sins of the world. The gospel is the good news that anyone who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation will be saved from God’s wrath, forgiven their sins, and assured of eternal life. Those whom God condemns to an eternal hell are those for whom Christ died, those who rejected His offer of salvation. God is truly glorified by His punishment of sinners and His grace to all who repent and believe in Jesus Christ.

Nothing can frustrate or hinder the plan of God. The combined opposition of Satan and his host of fallen angels cannot frustrate the will of God but can only fulfill it. We can be assured nothing else will either. Not even your sin or mine will change God’s plan. The only thing the Christian’s sin can do is hinder our fellowship and joy. But it will not frustrate God’s plan. How futile and foolish then is our sin and our rebellion, for it produces nothing of value.

Returning to soil erosion, the simplest way of protecting the soil is to keep it covered and thus protected from rainfall.  The type of cover I am referring to is plant cover - either growing plants or crop residue - protects soil from the erosive power of flowing water and raindrop impact. Conservation farming methods maintain a protective cover on the soil. These land use and management practices can be adapted to fit the needs of any farm operation. Some areas suffer from severe water erosion. In these areas, special measures may be needed to control erosion.

Farm management decisions should consider the potential for erosion under different crops, especially on land that is marginal for annual crop production. Areas at high risk for erosion due to steep slopes or erodible soils may be better suited for forage production or grazing. Steeply sloped lands under cultivation can be converted to permanent cover to minimize erosion. Wooded areas with poor soils and steep slopes can be left in their natural state and managed as woodlots. Alternative land uses can conserve the soil and have environmental benefits, while remaining beneficial to the farm operation.

Soil organic matter is very important for good crop production and for reducing soil erosion. Organic matter is made up of dead plant material. During decomposition, this material releases nutrients for plants. Organic matter also improves soil structure and tilth. Organic matter and microorganisms cement individual soil particles into larger aggregates. Soils high in organic matter have large, stable aggregates which resist erosion. A soil with stable aggregates also has more larger pore spaces to hold water. With this increased moisture-holding ability, there is less ponding in fields, and less runoff and erosion.

To maintain soil quality and fertility, new additions of plant material must equal the rate of organic matter decomposition and nutrient use by plants. Conventional tillage and fallowing practices increase soil temperature and also mix and aerate the soil, causing faster organic matter decomposition. The result has been a long-term decline in soil organic matter.

One of the best ways to reduce erosion is to protect the soil surface with a cover of growing plants or crop residue. Surface cover cushions the impact of raindrops so soil particles are not as easily dislodged and moved. It also slows the flow of water, giving the soil time to absorb more water and thereby reducing runoff and erosion. Research study has shown that any increase in infiltration is directly related to a decrease in runoff. As well, crop residue traps snow and reduces evaporation for higher soil moisture, which can improve crop yields, especially in a dry year.

Standing stubble and evenly spread straw and chaff protect the soil during spring runoff. Tillage should be kept to a minimum because it reduces the crop residue cover. Conservation tillage systems that leave most of the crop residue on the surface will reduce erosion and may have other benefits, such as lower equipment operating costs and labor inputs.

Conventional tillage buries the protective crop residue cover and disturbs the soil. The loose soil particles are easily detached by raindrops and running water. These factors lead to increased runoff and erosion.

Research shows that switching to reduced tillage systems is needed to protect soils on steeper and longer slopes from erosion. Reduced tillage systems leave a good crop residue cover to prevent erosion and conserve soil moisture. These systems also save time and energy, and costs are usually similar to or lower than those for conventional tillage systems.

Tillage is reduced by replacing some tillage operations for weed control with herbicide applications, or by using alternative tillage equipment that helps maintain a good residue cover.

    Residue management is important in all conservation tillage systems. Straw and chaff must be spread evenly at harvest to avoid or reduce such problems as: plugging during subsequent operations; poor seed germination; disease, weed and insect infestations; and nutrient tie-up.

Forage crops are a component in many farming systems. Forages can be grown on poorer soils or steep slopes not suitable for other crops, or used in rotations to build organic matter or break disease cycles. Forage cover protects the soil from erosion, and the fibrous roots hold the soil in place. As a perennial crop or plowdown, forages add organic matter and improve soil quality and structure. Improved soil structure allows the soil to absorb more water which reduces runoff and erosion.

Crop rotations for erosion control alternate forages with cereals and oilseeds or legumes. A well-planned rotation will improve soil quality and reduce erosion. Legumes in the rotation also add nitrogen and improve soil fertility. In drier areas, forages are harder to establish and may deplete moisture in a short-term rotation. An alternative annual crop such as a legume can be grown in these areas, or the forages can be maintained as a longer-term crop.

In summary, be alert to the subtleties of soil erosion and Satan.  One can destroy your land, but the other can destroy your life.