Conservation Corner: Consider the importance of topsoil

Published 4:42 pm Monday, January 29, 2018

I’ve been thinking about topsoil lately. I know about compost and aging manure and doing all the things that Lee Mink tells us to do to build up the nutrients in our soil, but that’s not what has brought the issue of topsoil to my consciousness. It has to do with changing land use, and the far reaching consequences of changing land uses.

I heard by way of the grapevine that the new owner of a large pasture near Saluda has plans to level off the pasture and use the dislocated topsoil to fill in a large hole in another location. Business wise, what he’s doing makes sense. By filling in the hole that is actually a huge drainage ditch that just so happens to be in a commercial area, he can create a level site for a new commercial enterprise – a store or carwash or office building maybe. Leveling off the pasture will create a site for a much desired housing complex, or a motel. It will bring in more tax dollars for the city. Won’t it be nice if it lowers everyone’s water bill?

But, what about the loss of all that life-giving topsoil, now buried in a hole? What long-term price are we paying for commercial progress and hopefully a lower water bill? And for all of you who live near Columbus, what about all the topsoil that is being moved to create a new I-26/Hwy. 74 interchange, most of which will be buried under pavement before the project is completed.

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How much topsoil will be lost for thousands of years simply to accommodate traffic for the World Equestrian Games that will last no more than two weeks? Think about it. Tons and tons will be lost forever, and no one will even think about it. I feel certain that the environmental consequences of building that new interchange were never considered. Can you imagine the laughter in the NC legislature if someone dared mention such a hair brained notion that maybe destroying multiple tons of topsoil should be taken into consideration?

Consider these facts whenever you drive by those busy bulldozers in Columbus: Generating three centimeters of top soil takes 1,000 years, and if current rates of degradation continue all the world’s top soil could be gone within 60 years. Some say that a third of the world’s topsoil has already been degraded.

One of the early botanists to come to America in the early 1600’s (I can’t remember his name) wrote that he could easily stick his arm into soft, porous soil all the way up to his elbow, something that is not possible to do just 400 years later.  The causes of soil degradation are many, including chemical heavy farming, deforestation, residential and commercial development = progress! The world is losing 30 soccer fields of soil every minute. That’s a big deal.

Have we even stopped to consider the cost of all this progress? To be honest, I have not thought about it too much because it is so depressing. But, when I thought about the reality that the pasture, which has been home for generations of cows for the past 150 years, will soon be gone, I had to think about it.

Some of you may remember a Conservation Corner that included a picture of all the land near Saluda’s I-26 Exit 59. Most of the fertile farmland in that picture now lies under pavement. Soon there will be more pavement, leaving less topsoil to sustain life.

“Soils are the basis of life.” Without fertile top soil, we’ll be gone just like those cows.