It’s always busy in NCAT’s Western Regional office, but spring and summer are perhaps busier times because farmers are preparing to plant, planting, and then managing their crops in the fourth year of drought in California. We provide information about how to deal with these challenging circumstances through workshops, free phone consultation, and the ATTRA website. The drought is a symptom of a changing climate, which farmers everywhere will have to deal with. There is a prediction of a strong El Niño year this coming fall and winter, so perhaps the drought will be followed by heavy rains and floods. Our soils, for the most part, have not been managed to support crop production under stresses such as these. We’ve invested in irrigation equipment, water storage and transport, tractors, tillage equipment, fertigation technology, even drones. But investing in our soils—investing in soil health and function—somehow has not been a priority. How many businesses could sustain themselves for very long without re-investing in their production equipment? Well-functioning soils are a farm’s most important piece of “equipment”, and yet 74% of our soils in North America are considered degraded or severely degraded (Oldeman 1994). Investing in soil health and function will support healthier crops, particularly during times of drought or flood stress, and it requires that farmers manage for, and respect, the soil’s ecology. This means returning organic matter to the soil, and keeping it covered to protect it against heavy rains or extreme heat. As Dylan noted, “the times they are a-changin’,” and farmers’ and society’s approach to soil management must change as well if we are to sustain ourselves.
-Rex Dufour, Western Regional Director