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international year of soils

World Soil Day - A Time to Celebrate the Foundation of Agriculture

Last year during the International Year of Soils (IYS), I had the incredible opportunity to help the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) spread the word about the many life-giving functions of soil. As part of this effort, I traveled to New York City to attend the kickoff ceremony for IYS at the United Nations, which was held on World Soil Day.

In 2014, the United Nations General Assembly designated December 5 as World Soil Day. It is observed this day each year to honor the birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, the world’s longest reigning monarch, who passed away in October. He played a pivotal role in the promotion of soil science and conservation, and was a leader in sustainable land resource management.

Farming Nature's Way

No-till farming used to be only about reducing soil erosion. Today, continuous no-till is the preferred tillage system in some areas. Why? It’s all about soil health.

The loss of organic matter in soil, which is the lightest soil component and the first to wash away, is the healthiest portion of our topsoil. It is the house where the biological systems in our soils live and includes everything from the tiniest organisms like bacteria, algae, fungi, and protozoa to the more complex nematodes, micro-arthropods (think tiny spiders), and the more visible earthworms, insects, small vertebrates, and plants. They are all part of healthy soil.

Soils in the Classroom: Celebrating the Discovery and Donation of a Historic Soils Collection

Thanks to the efforts of a dedicated science teacher from New Jersey, a valuable piece of soil science history is now available for viewing and research among the special collections at USDA’s National Agricultural Library (NAL) in Beltsville, Maryland.

Jill Guenther, who has taught Earth and space science for 29 years, discovered the antique soils collection tucked away in a classroom cabinet. “I knew it was something special, and I wanted to use it as a display when teaching erosion and conservation issues,” she explained.

Healthy Soils Provide Foundation for a Healthy Life on National Forests and Grasslands

Soils sustain life. Without soils there would be no life as we know it. Consider what healthy soils mean for the 154 national forests and 20 grasslands in 44 states and Puerto Rico. Soils provide the fertility needed to grow the plants, forests and grasslands that support and shelter humans and animals; they store water and carbon; they recycle and purify water, air and nutrients; and healthy soils can reduce nutrient loading, sediment production and runoff.

Healthy productive soils are critical to the Forest Service mission to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nations’ forests and grasslands to meet the needs of future and present generations. Many of the forests and grasslands we manage today were created as part of a national effort to protect soil and water resource degradation and restore forests and ecosystems. The original forest reserves were identified to protect and secure favorable flows of water and timber (Organic Act). This included the means to reduce or minimize soil erosion.

Soils Support Urban Life

The United Nations General Assembly has designated 2015 as the International Year of Soils. This is one of a continuing series of blogs to mark this observance.

Soil is defined as a dynamic natural body that is made up of solids, liquid and gases and occurs on the earth’s surface, contains living matter, and supports or is capable of supporting plants.  But soil is bigger than this.

Civilizations have either flourished or perished partly based on this natural resource and the capability of its people to manage and use it wisely. We all depend on the soil, regardless of where we live – rural or urban.

Event at USDA Ushers in 2015 as the International Year of Soils

Yesterday, we officially launched the International Year of Soils here at USDA.

Most people don’t realize that just beneath their feet lies a diverse, complex, life-giving ecosystem that sustains our entire existence. I’m talking about soil. There are more living organisms in a single teaspoon of healthy soil than there are people on the earth.

Our soils are alive. We talk about soil health – not soil quality -- on purpose. It’s an important distinction. Anything can have a “quality,” but only living things can have health.

USDA Joins World Leaders at the United Nations to Kickoff International Year of Soils

Last week at the United Nations in New York, I joined top USDA officials to celebrate World Soil Day and the U.S. launch of the International Year of Soils, or IYS. Last year, the United Nations General Assembly designated Dec. 5 as World Soil Day and declared 2015 as the IYS to “serve as a major platform for raising awareness of the importance of soils for food security and essential ecosystem service.”  Representing the United States were Robert Bonnie, USDA under secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, and David Smith, deputy chief for soil science and resource assessment, with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Under Secretary Bonnie was one of 10 distinguished guests making presentations on the floor of the United Nations. He emphasized the serious challenges that are facing agriculture and food security, particularly in light of the fact that in the next 40 years, farmers and ranchers will need to produce as much food as they have in the last 500 years to feed a rapidly growing population. He also said that NRCS’ work in soil conservation, soil health and soil science has been integral to the economic and environmental sustainability of agriculture.