It’s not unusual for me to have casual conversations with an agronomist, because I live in a state that has a rural based economy. I’ve enjoyed learning about agricultural issues while pedaling away on an exercise bike at the gym. My acquaintence, Randy is employed by the US Department of Agriculture. Thanks to him, a lot of my questions about the arcane nature of topsoil science have been clarified.
Randy says that the soil survey determined that most of our town of Norfolk, Nebraska is situated on “deep, nearly level, well drained silt type soils that were formed on bottom lands and stream terraces. Much of the soil was formed by material deposited by rivers in the floodplains.” Our town also includes four other “soil associations”.
He said that Madison County topsoil, altogether, is categorized into nine different “associated types”. If Americans want to know about their own particular topsoils they can go online and check out resources from the USDA and their state’s conservation and survey department.
Certainly, it is very important for farmers and ranchers to understand the dirt they use to grow crops and raise livestock upon, but why should the average citizen know such things? Randy says people should understand the most basic aspect and the foundation of how human life is sustained. It’s important to know these basics if we want to raise a garden, run an agricultural operation, or manage range and forest land.
Officials who are involved in rural and urban planning need to understand what types of soils they must deal with and how those soils behave under various conditions. Everyday people can be inspired to show greater responsibility so that we can contribute to the care of our fragile environment.
Soil is of vital importance to many aspects of the average person’s life. Our homes and apartments are built on top of it. If we work in a factory, an office, or a retail establishment, the building is located on top of soil. Our transportation network of roads and railways depends on intelligent placement on various soils. Of course, anybody who works to provide food, textiles, and timber products must know about the soils they utilize.
So what is soil? My agronomist acquaintance says that he and his associates are interested in the top two-metres of the surface of the Earth in our area. Agronomists in other areas concern themselves with greater or lesser depths, depending on their regional geology. We can differentiate topsoil from rock and sand quite easily. We know it as the mixture of organic matter and mineral particles that plants grow in.
Soil scientists analyze samples of various soils. They consider four categories of mineral particles. The finest particles are clays. The next size are silts. Next are sand grains. The last category is rock, that is anything from grit, to gravel, and even boulders. Understanding what is contained in soil, helps us know how to best utilize and conserve the various types of soil.
Randy and most of his colleages celebrate World Soil Day, today. Not only is today a salute to the dirt beneath our lives, 2015 has been the “International Year of Soils”. Both celebrations recognize the importance of the soil as a critical part of our natural world and how vital it is for our very survival.
We need to understand that soil is a huge part of our energy, food, and water security. Agronomists and soil scientists remind us that soil quality determines biodiversity and plays a big role in global climate change. If we understand the importance of soil and how to conserve it, we all become more powerful.