This post was written by Agricultural Policy Specialist Jennifer Terry
The Midwest is known for being one of the friendliest regions in the country, and for the most part, the reputation is well-deserved. It’s not uncommon for strangers to exchange pleasantries as they pass each other on the street, or to see someone lend a hand to a neighbor in need, and we should apply the same care and consideration to the resources we share, including our land and water.
Today is World Soil Day and the start of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization International Year of Soil. Both events celebrate soil and aim to raise awareness of the importance of healthy soils for food systems, agriculture and the environment.
If Iowans care about their communities (and I think we do), we should care about out watersheds, because a watershed is just that – a community. Urban or rural, everyone is a watershed neighbor, and protecting our soil is an important part of being a good watershed neighbor.
Healthy soil is quite literally the foundation of a healthy state, and in Iowa where a large percentage of our land is used for agriculture, healthy soil plays a huge role in improving our water quality. This in turn improves our health, environment and economy.
Healthy soil is capable of holding water longer, helping mitigate flooding in towns and farms downstream, and aiding communities in combating washed-out roads, bridges and a myriad of other flood-related problems.
Additionally, because of its ability to hold water, healthy soil helps prevent water from washing away down the watershed, carrying with it excess nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. According to Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy – which aims to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in our lakes and rivers – 92% of nutrient runoff is from agricultural land. This runoff causes toxic algae blooms in our state’s lakes and rivers that can make our water unsafe for drinking, swimming and outdoor recreation.
To effectively protect our soils and prevent agricultural runoff, Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy must include clear local goals, timelines and water quality testing to measure progress, as well as sustained funding not subject to the Governor’s veto. All elements it is currently lacking.
A farmer once told me “My farm isn’t Las Vegas; I know what happens here doesn’t stay here.” He’s right, and when we neglect soil health we all lose.
So today, as we celebrate the many benefits soil provides to our state, let’s engage in bold discussions about how we can work together to create meaningful, measurable solutions that improve soil health and water quality.