Soil Erosion: Threat to Food Supply

March 23, 1984

Report Outline
Worldwide Problem
Erosion in America
Search for Solution
Special Focus

Worldwide Problem

Extent of Erosion in U.S., Other Nations

A List of the most pressing problems confronting modern civilization certainly would include the threat of nuclear war, worsening air and water pollution, overpopulation in Africa, Asia and Latin America and the depletion of worldwide supplies of fossil fuels. Agriculture experts add another candidate to that list: the potentially catastrophic consequences of soil erosion. “[T]he loss of soil is in some ways the most serious of the threats civilization faces…,” writes Lester R. Brown, president of Worldwatch Institute. “[T]here are no widely usable substitutes for soil in food production. Civilization can survive the exhaustion of oil reserves, but not the continuing wholesale loss of topsoil.”.

Soil erosion is absolutely a tragedy of mounting proportions in some of the developing world,” said R. Neil Sampson, executive vice president of the National Association of Conservation Districts. In the United States, he added, “the soil erosion rates are pretty alarming. There's no amount of rationalization to make them go away. They are pretty serious.”.

Erosion—the wearing away of earth—occurs whenever rain and wind come into contact with soil. Some erosion therefore occurs naturally on all types of land. But agricultural practices that take little account of erosion control add greatly to the natural loss of soil. Agricultural scientists say that land with deep topsoil can lose as much as five tons an acre each year and land with thin layers of topsoil as much as three tons an acre annually without adversely affecting crop production potential. But on some 141 million acres of U.S. cropland—about 34 percent of the total—annual erosion averages more than five tons an acre, according to data compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.. In the “Corn Belt” states of Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, soil erosion averages twice that of any other region. Cropland erosion also is particularly serious in Hawaii, western Texas and eastern New Mexico, the Palouse Basin of eastern Washington and the western border of the Idaho panhandle, east-central Texas' Blackland Prairie and the southern Mississippi Valley Delta.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Soil Conservation
Mar. 23, 1984  Soil Erosion: Threat to Food Supply
Feb. 03, 1960  Soil Conservation and Crop Surpluses
Jul. 12, 1954  Wind Erosion
Jan. 27, 1936  Soil Conservation and Agricultural Adjustment
Agriculture and the Environment
Forests and Rangelands
Soil and Watershed Conservation