Precious Resources: Soil, Water, and Air

Healthy Soil

As we celebrate the holidays and look forward to a new year, we have many precious natural resources in this country to appreciate. Our soils, water and air are second to none! We need to keep reminding ourselves in these turbulent times, how great a nation we are and how important our precious resources are to feeding the 7 billion plus people on this earth. As a country, we export one-third of our crops overseas, so many people depend on the USA to keep them fed.

A common way to look at the importance of soils is to use an apple to represent the plant Earth. If the apple is sliced into four quarters, about 3 apple quarters or 75% of the earth is water located in oceans, lakes, and streams. The remaining one quarter apple slice represents the land area on Earth. Now cut that one quarter apple slice in half or into 1/8 sections. About 1/8 of Earth’s land is in swamps, deserts, mountainous areas, Arctic, and Antarctic areas that are not suitable for producing human food or for human habitation. The other remaining 1/8 apple slice represents land suitable for humans to live.

Next, slice the remaining habitable 1/8 apple piece lengthwise into four equal parts with four 1/32 sections of apple. The first 1/32 section represents areas of the world where the soil is too rocky or of poor soil quality for any type of food production. The second 1/32 piece represents the areas of the world too wet for food production. The third section represents land that has been developed by humans into cities, roads, parking lots, etc. Now, carefully cut the peel off the last 1/32nd section of apple. This thin sliver represents about 3% of the Earth’s landmass and is all the topsoil on the planet where food can be grown. 

Each year agricultural land is being lost to development due to a 1.1 % annual growth rate in the human population. Almost 1 million acre of land in the USA is lost to land development every year or in five years, a land area equal to the state of Massachusetts. Ohio currently had 13.6 million acres of farmland with 77,800 farms. About 7 million acres of farmland have been lost to Ohio development since the 1950’s.

About 44% of Ohio’s farm land is considered prime farmland, the fifth largest in the country. Ohio has lost more high-quality prime farmland to development than any other state except Texas. Prime farmland is defined by its “good soil quality, growing season, and adequate moisture supply needed to produce economically sustained high yields of crops when treated and managed according to acceptable farming methods, including water management." Prime farmland does not excessively erode or flood and is not saturated with water for long periods of time. Ohio is a leading agricultural state with food and agriculture being it’s #1 industry.

Water is another valuable resource. Only 3% of the water on the earth is freshwater but only 0.3% is usable for human consumption. About 69% of freshwater resides in glaciers and 30%+ is underground. The 0.3% resides in surface water in lakes, rivers, and streams and is the main source of water for human everyday use. Luckily, this area constitutes about 22,300 cubic miles of freshwater.

The Midwest and Ohio has abundant water resources. The Great Lakes represent 22% of the earth’s freshwater in lakes. Second only to Antarctica and Greenland’s ice caps, the Great Lakes are the world’s second largest fresh water surface resource and represents approximately 95 percent of the usable fresh water in the USA. The Great Lakes contain enough water to cover the entire lower 48 states to a depth of almost 10 feet.

Ohio is blessed with water resources with Lake Erie supplying drinking water to at least 11 million people. Lake Erie contains more than 75% of all the fish in the Great Lakes because it is shallow and all the water that enters Lake Erie flushes through within 2-3 years. The Western Lake Erie basin has the highest level of sports fishing in all the Greats Lakes.

Finally, USA air quality has greatly improved due to the 1990 Clean Air Act. From 1980-2020, gross domestic product increased 173%, energy consumption increased 19%, vehicle miles driven increased 85% and the USA had a 46% increase in population growth; however, total air pollutant emissions dropped by 73%. Overall, we have a lot to be thankful for in this county! Let’s try to keep it going!