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Soil health on the big screen and in our backyard
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Soil health on the big screen and in our backyard

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A climate change documentary called “Kiss the Ground” has recently come out on Netflix. The star of the show is soil, with a supporting cast of celebrities, farmers and soil health evangelists sharing the screen.

The documentary’s premise is that the ability of plants to capture carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and soil’s ability to store some of that carbon can reverse climate change. By adopting practices that conserve and build soil’s capacity to store carbon, farmers can be heroes in the climate change battle.

Many soil scientists would caution that soil may not be the silver bullet we’re looking for — the ability of soil to store the amount of carbon needed to realize significant reductions in greenhouse gasses is widely debated.

This doesn’t make soil any less deserving of the spotlight.

As any farmer-member of our local Watershed Protection Committee of Racine County (WPCR) will tell you, the potential for carbon sequestration is just one of the benefits of improving soil health.

The WPCR is dedicated to improving the water quality of our region by building soil health on their farms. They’re achieving this by reducing or eliminating tillage and planting cover crops to protect the soil. These practices help reduce soil erosion in their fields while building soil organic matter and structure to better support their crops.

Improving soil health takes time and there’s a learning curve involved in adopting these practices. Groups like the WPCR have formed throughout Wisconsin and all over the country to help farmers learn from each other’s mistakes, share successes and increase the adoption of soil health practices.

In “Kiss the Ground” you’ll see farmers who are known nationwide for their work in the area of soil health. It’s certainly worth watching to gain a better appreciation of soil and how we impact it.

But if you want to see what’s going on right here in Racine County, I encourage you to learn more about the WPCR at wpcracinecounty.org. View a video of local farmers “planting green” — a method that involves planting seeds in spring directly into a mat of living, green cover crops. Meet two of the founding members, Chuck Mealy and Tom Greil, via video at https://youtu.be/47JMotd5-LE and https://youtu.be/LSvqnha6LSg.

The group offers opportunities to get involved by either attending their summer and winter workshops or by making a donation to help cover the cost of cover crops, outreach and on-farm research.

In addition to the WPCR, I also recommend checking out these resources to better understand the importance of soil:

  • Explore the USDA Carbon Scapes (carbonscapes.org/learn) — an interactive platform where you can explore the carbon landscape of America
  • Read interesting articles about soil and our environment at the Soil Science Society of America’s blog:
https://soilsmatter.wordpress.com
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Leigh Presley is an agriculture educator for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension Racine and Kenosha Counties.

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