The Federal Crop Insurance Program (FCIP) paid out an astonishing and record-breaking $17.3 billion in claims due crops lost to extreme weather last year. And the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) says much of that could have been prevented with better soil maintenance.
Too many farmers use shortcuts and bad practices when it comes to their soil. They rely on chemical fertilizers, and ignore things like cover crops and mulch and natural fertilizers to add nutrients to the ground growing their precious crops. This means their soil is rapidly depleted of organisms that help soil maintain an optimal structure. Farmers also till their fields to remove last year’s crop stubble completely, which then removes nature’s moisture retention system. And when the soil can’t retain moisture, or doesn’t have bacteria and earthworms and other critters maintaining a healthy environment, it becomes more susceptible to harsh weather conditions (like drought, heat and wind).
Obviously, farmers can’t control the weather, but they can control how they treat their soil. The NRDC recently issued a report called “Soil Matters: How the Federal Crop Insurance Program should be reformed,” calling for farmers to practice better soil maintenance in order to reduce the need for federal dollars to cover their weather-related losses.
One suggestion is to offer reduced premiums to farmers who adopt a number of practices that will lead to healthier and stronger soil. Three such practices would be:
First and foremost, stop using chemical fertilizers and pesticides like Scotts and Miracle Gro. This is the first and most critical step to healthy soil. Instead, use organic methods of fertilizing and amending your soil, like Worm Compost.
Next, cover your gardens in the winter. Protect that soil from the harsh cold and ice. You can do this by planting cover crops (like winter rye) and mixing it into the soil next spring as a mulch, or even just laying straw (not hay) over your garden soil.
Finally, don’t plant the same thing in the same place year after year. Rotate your crops from one part of your garden to another. Every type of crop needs a slightly different set of nutrients to thrive, and if you plant one thing in the same place every year, the crop will drain the soil of those specific nutrients. Doing this will mean you won’t need to use large amounts of synthetic fertilizer. Compost will usually be enough.
To read more about the NRDC’s report, and find out which states required the most federal dollars to cover crop losses click here.
Steve & Corey Veldheer are organic yard & garden specialists in west Michigan.