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CAROL P. WILLIAMS: The good earth

Healthy soil foundation of state by Carol P. Williams Special to the Democrat-Gazette | September 5, 2019 at 2:50 a.m.

A few years ago, the movie Waterworld gave us a fictional preview of a world in which dirt had become a scarce, illegally traded commodity. Man had squandered this precious resource and given up living with earth beneath his feet.

In other words, a world without land--a frightening prospect ...

Today, many of us think of land conservation as beginning with Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir, and the preservation of our beautiful national parks. Land conservation was also led by other early champions, such as Aldo Leopold, who wrote about the wonders and value of the land, water, wildlife and wilderness of our beautiful country. Through his photographs, Ansel Adams made us aware of the value and beauty of our land's natural wonders.

Conservation of our land is much more personal for those of us who grew up in rural America, loving the land as the foundation of our livelihood and rural lifestyle. It is painful for me to read of the financial and social pressures under which the American farmer finds himself at this moment. Added to those woes is the sight of the flooding which causes our rivers to run brown--the soil from someone's farm.

I grew up on a family farm in the center of a loving rural community. The hard work was rewarded daily by an atmosphere of closeness to the land and what it produced--as well as the benefits of an outdoor life, which included hunting and fishing. Perhaps it was my early love of those fields, woods, orchards, and gardens that led to my eventual work in land conservation.

My grandfather was interested in the most productive way crops and plants could be cultivated. He corresponded with Luther Burbank to learn of grafting varied species onto the trees in our pecan and fruit orchards. At that time, we grew cotton and corn. The community cotton gin and grist mill were close by. Crops were rotated from bottomland to upland, depending upon rainfall, and fields were allowed to regenerate through lying fallow and turning under off-season cover crops.

In those days, the waste from crop harvest and from our farm animals provided a constant supply of natural fertilizer. Today, the use of commercial fertilizers has changed the composition of the soil, due to continuing accumulation of salts which kill the microbes in the soil. We are learning that all aspects of the microbiome are important--within our own bodies, as well as the environment in which we live, especially in our soil.

Recently, I spoke with an Arkansas County landowner who has begun a remarkably productive experiment on his farms to restore the microbes in the soil. His son had heard a scientific lecture on restoration of the soil, contacted the speaker, and learned of a new process by which the soil's microbial composition can be restored through natural methods. They now work with scientists to monitor the natural process and the composition of the soils during the regenerative process.

We are blessed in Arkansas to have a diversity of rich soils which are the foundation of the largest industry in our state: agriculture. Soils exist because of five factors: foundational material, climate, topography, organisms and, of course, time.

In 1997, the Arkansas Legislature adopted the Stuttgart Silt Loam as the official soil of Arkansas--it occupies approximately 200,000 acres in the eastern half of the state. Arkansas soils are primarily natural, made up of broken-down and weathered mineral and organic matter, some of which have been amended by human activity. Natural growth methods will give us even richer soils for agricultural production.

For many of us, agriculture suggests row crops, but pastureland and hay production for livestock, as well as forest growth, must be included. Healthy soil, providing growth potential, subsoil stability and prevention of erosion, is the foundation of these segments of our state's economy.

In providing conservation stewardship of forests, farms and open space throughout the state, I have learned that the land of Arkansas provides a rich, diverse, and productive environment for all our citizens.

I meet enthusiastic lovers of our land who are proud to live in the Natural State and appreciate the benefits the good earth provides.

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Carol P. Williams is executive director of Land Trust of Arkansas.

Editorial on 09/05/2019

Print Headline: CAROL P. WILLIAMS: The good earth

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