Moving Beyond the Fork: The Year of the Soils

By: Wes King

Food is foundational. Eating is so much more than an isolated act of consumption, eating connects and unites us all. Yet eating, and for that matter food and farming, are dependent on something that is even more foundational – clean water and healthy productive soil.

In a 1937 letter to all state governors urging them to adopt legislation to create soil conservation districts, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote, “The Nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.” A truth in which the rise and fall of many societies throughout human history have rested upon. And while the collapse of many societies throughout human history has been wrapped up in unsustainable and abusive farming and land use practices, those outcomes were not and are not inevitable. The choices we make as a society collectively through public policies can help to determine our fate. We can choose not to destroy our soil.

Unfortunately, U.S. farm policies prioritize and incentivize maximum production over soil and water conservation. And as a nation we are losing soil to erosion and degradation at unsustainable rates precipitated by farming practices and systems that are encouraged, subsidized, and supported by federal tax dollars. With the threat of climate change and extreme weather patterns continuing to grow, it is paramount that we protect and conserve the soil we still have. We need to begin to heal the land and build resiliency into our food and farm system by promoting regenerative agriculture practices that improve soil health.

But instead of doubling down on critical soil and water conservation programs and incentives President Obama has proposed massive funding cuts to the nation’s most critical farm conservation programs – programs like the Conservation Stewardship Program that  incentivize and reward farmers who take critical steps to conserve soil and water resources for future generations. Unfortunately, this is not a one time isolated event but part of an emerging trend. In fact the 2014 Federal Farm Bill cut conservation funding by $4 billion dollars over 10 years, a massive cut that represents the largest Congressional cut to conservation funding ever, and the first time there has been a decrease in conservation funding since it became part of farm bills in 1985.

2015 has been declared the International Year of Soils by the 68th United Nations General Assembly. Will you stand with the rest of the world in celebrating the life giving properties of soil and help hold the line on critically important soil conservation programs and funding? Right now Congress is considering the President’s budget proposal and determining funding levels for soil and water conservation programs through their various appropriations committees. And Illinois Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk both sit on the Senate Appropriations committee that will make the final funding decision later this summer. Please consider calling them now and ask that they oppose funding cuts to the USDA’s critically important soil and water conservation programs.

(Senator Dick Durbin – 202.224.2152; Senator Mark Kirk – 202.224.2854)