High pH is a different issue. “We have no easy fix for high pH soils. Farmers may need to select an adaptable crop.”

Nutrient cycling is an important concern, Ward said. “Anytime we remove grain or forage from the land, we remove nutrients. High yields remove more nutrients that must be replaced. We get some carbon and nitrogen from the air. We have to get more from soil minerals, decomposing organic matter, manures and fertilizers. I see nothing wrong with these.”

Some people do. He objects to “non-ag magazines” and other sources complaining that such farming practices are not sustainable. “That makes me mad,” he said. “We are doing much better at conserving soil.”

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Practices such as rotation and cover crops are helping with conservation. Cover crops, for example, recycle nutrients such as nitrogen and calcium back to the soil surface. “Soil organic matter is not just carbon; we have to build up organic matter to get all the other nutrients. Most sulfur is held in organic matter. The idea is to build soil organic matter to improve soil quality and health.”

Increasing organic matter content improves productivity, enhances infiltration, adds to soil stability and builds structure. Reduced tillage preserves that organic matter. “The No. 1 environmental enemy in production agriculture is intensive tillage,” Ward said. “Soil carbon is the keystone that holds everything together—soil physical, biological, and chemical processes and properties.”

He said preserving soil is essential to feeding the world. “If we can produce enough food for 2050, what can we do after that? Can we continue to do it?”

He’s convinced we can, but conserving the soil will be an essential part of the process. “We may move slowly.”

A critical aspect of conservation will be eliminating tillage and maintaining cover.


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