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7,000 years of farming

Agriculture.com Staff 05/18/2007 @ 7:28am

One of the most fascinating publications I have ever read is entitled "Conquest of the Land Through 7000 Years"*.

The copy I have was published in 1978, based on research done by Mr. W.D. Louderback in 1938 and 1939. The subject of this writing deals with the interaction of geography, geology and society throughout history. At times like these, I think a lot about what Mr. Louderback says because most of his publication deals with the lack of conservation of natural resources and how that has been the ruination of several advanced civilizations over the years. At least half of his space is devoted to the effects of soil erosion.

The reason that my attention was drawn again to this publication is that eastern Nebraska has suffered severe erosion from two very hard rain storms in the last month. I can look out my office window and see evidence of permanent damage done to the soil from these two rains of four inches each in less than two weeks. Such rains are common in this area, coming at least once in five years. As I look at the fields in my neighborhood, I wonder if some day they will look like the pictures of fields in the Middle East and North Africa shown in the pamphlet.

When I was growing up, before the advent of conservation structures, I remember huge ditches in fields. A time progressed, government conservation programs resulted in terraces and waterways being built which eliminated the ditches and greatly reduced soil erosion. The problem was that the structures had to be maintained and farming was slower on the contour than when planting straight rows.

As time passed, fewer and fewer farmers could remember how bad the erosion had been. As a result, the motivation was not as great to maintain the structures. No-till was a big help in reducing the problem of soil washing. Even with no-till, recent rains did considerable damage to the soil and the means used to protect it.

Soil erosion is not the only factor where conservation has fallen by the wayside. The irrigated land further west in my state uses precious water to produce corn for ethanol. Even with more efficient irrigation methods, some areas are running out of water at the same time as consumers are crying for more sources of energy. Those of you who farm where there is plenty of rain and where erosion is not a major problem are feeling the effects of wasted resources when you pay the inflated price for motor fuel and fertilizer.

The factor that probably annoys me the most about this whole concept is the development of residential acreages in productive land. Not only is the land taken out of production, but resources are used to heat the huge homes, drive SUV's to the city for employment and to care for the horse or two that always seem to be a part of the "good life." I have been on the county planning commission for 30 years. My experience has been that farmers do not want to rein in development in rural areas because some day they might want to take some of the development money to retire on.

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