The National Association of Conservation Districts has been celebrating Stewardship Week since 1955. Stewardship Week is officially celebrated from the last Sunday in April to the first Sunday in May. For this year, that is April 27 through May 4. Dig Deeper: Mysteries in the Soil is the theme for 2014. We begin by defining the term stewardship. Paraphrasing most dictionaries, stewardship is defined as “the individual’s responsibility to manage his life and property with proper regard to the rights of others.” Air, soil and water are all major concerns for conservation districts as they make a huge impact on the quality of life for the human race. Soil is the focus this year.
The Soil Science Society of America describes soil in the following way. “Soil is an amazing substance. A complex mix of minerals, air, and water, soil teems with countless micro-organisms, and the decaying remains of once-living things. Soil is made of life and makes life. To the farmer, soil is where crops grow. To the engineer, soil is a foundation upon which to build. To the ecologist, soil supports communities of living things. To the archaeologist, soil holds clues to the past cultures. To the city dweller, soil nurtures grass and gardens. To the soil scientist, soil is all of these things. Soil has been called “the skin of the earth” because it is the thin outermost layer of the Earth’s crust. Like our skin, we can’t live without soil.”
Of all the water on earth, only 1.3% is surface freshwater. If we look at soil as being the foundation, how much soil do we have? Looking at the entire earth, 75% of the earth is covered with water in our oceans, lakes, rivers and streams. The remaining 25% represents land. More than half of that land is desert, polar or mountainous regions where it is too hot, too cold or too high to be productive. That leaves us with 12.5%, which includes land that is limited by terrain, fertility or too much rainfall. When we eliminate land that is too rocky, steep, shallow, or wet to sustain food production, we have about 10% of all soil to produce the food supply for the entire world. And this small amount competes with a variety of other soil uses including housing, cities, schools, hospitals, shopping centers, landfills and more. Soil is a precious natural resource.
Soil erosion is a major concern. Topsoil is the most productive soil layer and the first layer to be lost due to erosion. Erosion occurs naturally from wind, water and ice. Human activities are responsible for 60-80% of all erosion. Damaged, neglected or badly managed ground can have centuries-old accumulations washed away by a single rainstorm. Though soil is a renewable source, it can take up to 500 years to form just 1 inch of topsoil. The soil we lose to erosion today will not be replaced in our lifetime.
The Dust Bowl of the 1930’s inspired the creation of the Soil Conservation Service (now Natural Resources Conservation Service - NRCS) and the many state and local soil and water conservation districts. The National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) in conjunction with your state conservation district (IASWCD) and your local LaGrange County SWCD assist landowners and the general public through education and technical assistance aimed at the proper management of soil and water. If you are interested in becoming more involved in conservation activities, please contact us at 260-463-3471 extension 3 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Hugh Hammond Bennett, the founder of the Soil Conservation Service stated “Take care of the land and the land will take care of you.”