"To move forward we must learn from the past."
Since the dawn of time mankind has lived from the food, fiber, and fuel that earth has provided. Thousands of years passed without issue. But examination of history has determined that changes must be enacted if civilization as we know it will continue.
"I tell you that the great cities rest upon these broad and fertile prairies. Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic. But destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country."
- William Jennings Bryan
The World's arable lands have been degraded by inadequate farming techniques since the dawn of modern agriculture. In the beginning agriculture simply treated the soil as an infinite resource. Soon it was discovered that this was an incorrect assumption, and erosion began degrading the once fertile fields which were sustaining those populations. It was not a monumental issue at that time. After all, available land was easily accessible and nearby. The land simply needed to be deforested or in the case of grassland, cultivated and put into crop production.
As population grew so did the demand for food, fiber and fuel, placing greater demands on the existing production areas. This led to accelerated degradation of those lands, and erosion polluted the air and water supplies. But even more disastrous was how it changed the efficiency of production. Yields were steadily declining, and providing enough forage for the livestock and wildlife was becoming more difficult to locate and to manage. This resulted in a suffering population: something had to be done.
When one village or nation depleted its resources, it looked to neighboring villages for help. Some did so willingly while others fought valiantly to protect their lifestyle. The conquest for new productive lands resulted in the elimination of many civilizations. Wars occurred to defend or obtain the land that would feed the population of those involved.
After hundreds of years of turmoil resulting in lost civilizations, agrarians realized that methods needed to be developed to improve the productivity of the soil. It was recognized that erosion could be slowed by growing several different crop types (crop diversity; cool season grasses, cool season broadleafs, warm season grasses and warm season broadleafs), incorporating the use of manures into the soil (fertilizer; nutrients) and utilizing growing plants (cover crops; biological primers) during the time between cash crops (fallow period). The animal impact was also kept to a minimum because of ample grazing and the nomadic nature of the shepherds. When cattle were introduced, they too followed this style of grazing method (rotational and mob grazing). These practices worked.
However, they were labor-intensive and required precise knowledge to implement correctly. As farm size grew beyond the land owner's care and tenant farmers or laborers were increasingly utilized, the desire to care for the land was waining. Many did not understand the amount of damage that their actions inflicted on the land that sustained them. Unfortunately, history has repeated this scenario since the time before Christ.
"Estimates show that over the past one hundred and fifty years, the United States has already lost over forty percent of its topsoil. If this continues, our civilization too shall perish."
- Brian Lindley, former Executive Director, No-till on the Plains, Inc.