Soil health on the big screen

Article was written by Leigh Presley, Agriculture Extension Educator. 
Originally published in the Kenosha News.

A new climate change documentary called “Kiss the Ground” came out on Netflix this week. Lots of famous people are featured in the film, lending their two cents, pretty faces and platforms to the dialog. But the real star of the show is soil, with a supporting cast of 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 the impacts of climate change.

As the farmers, advocates and celebrities featured in the film explain, farmers can help solve climate change by adopting practices that conserve and build soil’s capacity to store carbon. The basic soil health principles that support these practices are summarized by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS):

Protect bare soil from erosion with soil armor, i.e., a living or decomposing layer of plant matter.

Minimize soil disturbance through reducing tillage, which helps keep carbon in the soil.

Incorporate plant diversity by rotating the types of crops planted on a particular piece of ground.

Maintain a continual live plant/root in the soil throughout the year by growing cover crops.

Integrate livestock by grazing animals on the land in a way that mimics nature.

Compared to the plethora of doom-and-gloom documentaries about climate change, “Kiss the Ground” presents a hopeful message and a solution that seems more feasible than abandoning fossil fuels and less personally inconvenient than consuming or travelling less.

Yet, more than one soil scientist would caution that soil isn’t the silver bullet in the climate change battle. For one, the capacity of soil to store the amount of carbon needed to realize significant reductions in greenhouse gasses is widely debated. And relying on widespread adoption of soil health practices has limitations when farmers already face a mountain of challenges.

While “Kiss the Ground” may shy away from addressing these limitations and at times takes a rather one-sided view of modern agriculture, I think it’s worth watching to gain a deeper appreciation for soil and how we impact it. Check it out and then keep learning with these additional resources:

Explore the USDA Carbon Scapes (https://www.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/.

Learn about the Watershed Protection Committee of Racine County (https://www.wpcracinecounty.org/) — a group of farmers in the area coming together to learn about soil health and protect water resources.

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