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Soil Erosion and Soil

Soil erosion is widespread
• Humans are the primary cause of erosion
• 19 billion hectares of croplands worldwide suffer
from erosion
• Kazakhstan lost tends of millions of hectares to
wind erosion
• Soil degradation over the next 40 years in Africa
could reduce crop yields by half
• The on-farm cost of agricultural land degradation
in Canada is $670 million per year
Soil degradation: A global concern

Soil degradation:
A global concern

• Soil degradation
results from
agriculture and
• Over the past 50
years, soil degradation
has reduced global
grain production by
Desertification reduces productivity
of arid lands
• Desertification
– A loss of more than 10% productivity from erosion,
soil compaction, forest removal, overgrazing,
salinization, climate change, depletion of water
– A type of land degradation
– Affects 1/3 of the planet’s land area
– Most prone areas are arid and semiarid lands
– Climate change could result in displacement of 50
million people in 10 years
What is soil erosion?

The denudation of
the soil cover and
washing down is
Soil erosion by running water
described as soil

Two causes of Soil erosion

A. Natural Factors.
B. Human Factors.
Soil erosion by wind
Population and consumption degrade soil

• Feeding the world’s rising human population

requires changing our diet or increasing
agricultural production
– But land suitable for farming is running out
– We must improve the efficiency of food production
– We must decrease our impact on natural systems
• Mismanaged agriculture turns grasslands into
deserts, removes forests, diminishes biodiversity
– It also pollutes soil, air, and water with chemicals
– Fertile soil is blown and washed away
Adverse effects of soil erosion
Top soil blown away by wind or washed away by rainfall

Fewer nutrients in soil;

Requires more fertilizer inputs; soil and water pollution

Less soil organic matter, soil structure and permeability

Agricultural productivity goes down
SO Land gradually becomes barren
Lowers Economic Development
Negative social implications like migration
Other Effects of Erosion
• Weakened land Leads to…
– Downstream flooding
– Recurrence of landslides
– Reduced water quality
– Increased river and lake
– Build up of silt in reservoirs and
navigation channels
– Dust storms
– Loss of valuable topsoil.
– Burying valuable topsoil.
– Damage to fields.
– Plant productivity decline.
Health issues
Eye infections
Upper respiratory problems
Loss of topsoil
• Whenever topsoil is exposed, water and wind
can quickly erode it.
• Plant cover can protect soil from erosion.
• Plants break the force of falling rain, and plant
roots hold the soil together.
• Wind is another cause of soil loss.
• Wind erosion is most likely to happen in areas
were farming methods are not suited to dry
• Wind erosion contributed to the Dust Bowl on
the Great Plains of US.
Worldwide, an estimated 26
billion tons of topsoil are washed
or blown off cropland each year.
Every year 6 million hectares of
productive dryland become
Human factor in
soil erosion
logging and slash-

Plants anchor in O
and A horizons
(top soil)
Removal of plants
make soil
susceptible to


Mining activities.

Defective methods of
farming such as
ploughing in a wrong
way i.e. up and down
the slope.
• Tillage
• Repeated plowing
– Breaks down soil aggregates
leaving “plow pan” or “hard
pan” (hard, unfertile soil)
• Opening up Earth to plant new
– Increases soil erosion
– It is done since it is thought to
increase soil nutrients
• When land is continuously farmed, the nutrients
are drained from the soil which destroys soil
structure and makes it less fertile.
• Monoculture
– Planting of just one type of crop in large area
– Decrease in genetic diversity of crop species
• Lack of genetic variation=increased susceptibility to pests and
• Consistent planting of one plant in area LEACHES soil of specific
nutrients needed for plant growth
– Prevention Method: CROP ROTATION
• Different crops are planted in growing area in each growing
• Machinery
– Large machines
– Agriculture industry is a huge consumer of energy
• Energy is consumed by:
– Production of pesticides
– Production of Fertilizers
– Use of fossil fuels to power farm machinery
• Green Revolution=boom in agricultural productivity
• Industrial revolution  mechanization of farming  increase
world wide agricultural productivity in last 50 years of
=detrimental to environment
• India became self sufficient in food

• Drawbacks
– Increase in irrigation = Over irrigated soils= SALINIZATION
• Soil becomes water logged and when it dries out,
salt forms a layer on the surface, which leads to
– Chemical pesticides=new insect species that are pesticide-
» Recently GM plants are helping solve pesticide problem
Irrigation can cause long-term soil
• Irrigation = Artificially providing water to support
• Waterlogging = over-irrigated soils which suffocates
• Salinization = the buildup of salts in surface soil
– Salinization inhibits production of 20% of all
irrigated cropland, costing more than $11

Other chemicals also contribute to
soil contamination
• Fertilizer = substances that contain essential nutrients but
over-application can damage soils
• Inorganic fertilizers = mined or synthetically manufactured
mineral supplements
• Organic fertilizers = the remains or wastes of organisms
– manure, crop residues, fresh vegetation
– Compost = produced when decomposers break down
organic matter
– Not perfect when it gets into the water system

Other chemicals also contribute to
soil contamination (cont’d)
• Nitrogen and phosphorous runoff from farms and
other sources can lead to algal blooms
• Nitrates can leach through soil and contaminate
• Pesticides are another source of soil contamination
• Industrial activity contaminates soil through
inappropriate disposal of wastes and improper

Grazing practices can contribute to
soil degradation
Overgrazing is largely
responsible for the
permanent drying out of
parts of the Mediterranean –
e.g. Greece and Syria

Irrigation can cause long-term soil
problems (cont’d)
• Remedies for correcting salinization once
it has occurred:
– Choose crops appropriate for the area
– Irrigate with low-salt water
– Irrigate efficiently
• Drip irrigation targets water directly to plants

Types of soil erosion
1) Rain splash Erosion:
Raindrops accelerate as fall until
they reach speed at which friction
balances gravity
for large raindrops: 30 km / hr
transfer kinetic energy to soil:
detach soil
destroy structure
transport soil (as much as
0.7 m vertically and 2 m
2) Sheet Erosion: Sometimes
water flows as a sheet over
large areas down a slope. In
such cases the top soil is
washed away. This is known
as sheet erosion.
Types of soil erosion Rill erosion
5) Rill Erosion: when runoff
creates small, linear
depressions in the soil
surface Gully erosion
6) Gully erosion: rills may
join together
concentrating water and
enlarge forming deep
channels as gullies. Badlands
Deepens and retreats
The land becomes unfit
for cultivation -known as
bad lands Ravines of Chambal basin
3)Wind erosion: Wind
blows loose soil off flat or
sloping land known as
wind erosion.
Arid and semi-arid
Improve soil management
* contour plowing
* reduced tillage or no
* using windbreaks to
reduce wind speeds at
the land surface,
* allowing soils to rest
* promote humus
What is Soil Conservation?
• Soil conservation is a set of management
strategies for prevention of soil being eroded
from the Earth’s surface or becoming
chemically altered by overuse, acidification,
salinization or other chemical soil

Soil conservation is using and

managing the land based on the
capabilities of the land itself
involving application of the best
management practices leading to
profitable crop production without
land degradation.
Ten ways to conserve soil

Plant Terraces No-till farming Contour ploughing


Crop rotation Soil pH

Water the soil Salinity management Soil organisms Indigenous

Soil conservation
All the cultural practices such as ploughing,
sowing, intercultivation etc. done across the slope
reduce soil and water loss.
• Contour farming is the farming practice
of ploughing across a slope following its
elevation contour lines.
• In contour ploughing, the ruts made by the
plough run perpendicular rather than parallel
to slopes, generally resulting in furrows that
curve around the land and are level.
• By ploughing and sowing across the slope,
each ridge of plough furrow and each row of
the crop slow runoff and provide more time for
water to enter into the soil
Agronomical practice in which ordinary crops
are planted / grown in form of relatively narrow
strips (of row and cover crops, refer “CHOICE
OF CROPS”) across the land slope.
This method becomes more effective for
erosion control, which it is followed with crop
rotations in the area where terraces are not
practically feasible
The strip crops check the
surface runoff and force them to
infiltrate into the soil, thereby
facilitates to the conservation of
rain water.
 Generally the use of strip cropping practice for
soil conservation is decided in those areas
where length of slope is not too longer.
 Large fields can be divided into strips. Strips of
grass are left to grow between the crops. This
breaks up the force of the wind


a) Reducing the runoff flowing through the close -

growing sod strips.
b) Increasing the infiltration rate of the soil under
cover condition.
 Row crops or tall growing crops such as sorghum,
cotton, maize, pearl millet is not protective in
conserving soil as they expose majority of the soil
known as erosion permitting crops.
 Whereas close growing crops such as cowpea,
groundnut, green gram, black gram etc., which
protect soil are known as soil erosion resisting
crops as they are very effective in reducing soil loss
by minimizing the impact of rain drop and acting as
obstruction to runoff.
Good ground cover by canopy gives the protection to
the land like an umbrella and minimize soil erosion.
 Besides conserving soil and moisture, the cover crops
hold those soluble nutrients, which are lost by leaching.
The third advantage of the cover crops is the addition
of organic matter.

 The legumes provide better cover and better

Among the legumes cowpea has been found to
produce maximum canopy followed by horse gram,
green gram, black gram and dhaincha.
• Perennial plant growing
–Plants that grow during several seasons are cultivated e.g.
coffee and tea
–Do not have to harvested yearly AND hold soil longer
–Ground cover plants (alfalfa) hold and protect soil from
erosion if planted right after initial harvest

• Tree Belts
– Planting lines of trees to create shelter belts from wind.
Rows of such trees are called shelter belts
– Stabilisation of desert in western India
Drip irrigation is one way scientists have
started combating problem
Allots area only necessary amounts of
Water delivered straight to roots

Conservation plowing
farmers disturb the soil and its plant
cover as little as possible.

Today, narrow chisel plows are used

that leave 75% of crop residue on
surface and open up only a thin ridge
for seeds
No-till methods are beneficial
Pierce seeds through ground cover
without opening up a seam in the earth
Keeps soil in place and prevents erosion
• Crop rotation
• Different crops in a field in a single year
• Different types of plants absorb different amounts of
nutrients from the soil.
• Replenishment of nutrients to the soil
• For example
1st year: cotton, and corn (absorb large amounts of nutrients)
2nd year: barley, oats, or rye (use fewer soil nutrients)
3rd year: legumes such as pea or beans to restore the nutrient
• Terracing
– Steps can be cut out on the slopes
making terraces
– hold water and soil in place
– More expensive and time
consuming but allows cultivation
on steep grades and increases
sustainability (this is how rice is
grown in Asia)
• Contour Bunding
– Small bunds across the slope
– In its simplest form, stones are placed
around the contours of slopes
– Run off is collected between two
– Velocity of run off is arrested
– Water infiltration to soil is high and
water table rises
• Gully Plugging
– Excessive gully erosion
– Embankments are built across the
Gully plugging…

A grade control structure is an earthen,

wooden, concrete, or other type of
structure built across a drainageway that
prevents gully erosion.
• Contour Trenching
– Excavating trenches along the contours
– Run off is collected and diverted
– Water flowing down the hill is retained by the trench
– Water infiltrates the soil below.
– Between two trenches crops can benefit during
the growing season (when there is less rain) from the
subsoil water reserve gathered during the rainy season
• Mulching
– consists of applying organic material (hay) over the exposed
– cover over the soil which reduces soil displacement
associated with the impact of raindrops hitting soil particles
– reduce the volume and velocity of runoff over the soil
– Conservation tillage would conserve soil and water
– Provide organic matter to soil
Scooping the owl surface to form small
depressions or basins help in retaining rain
water on the surface for longer periods
They also reduce erosion by trapping
eroding sediment.
• Buffer Strips
– vegetative areas (3-5 m) that separate field
boundaries from watercourses
– stabilize stream banks with their extensive root
– prevent soil and contaminants from entering
watercourses by providing an area for field runoff to
– allow soil particles to settle out of the runoff water..
– Watercourse with rocked banks and a grassed
buffer strip
– Stream banks in high flow watercourses will need
Soil Conservation
• Several management practices utilized to conserve soil
1. Return organic matter to soil
2. Slow down effects of wind
3. Reduce amount of damage done to soil by tillage (plowing)
4. Afforestation
• Examples:
– Use animal waste and the residue of plants to increase the
amount of organic material in soil
– Modify tillage practices to reduce the breakup of soil and
reduce the amount of erosion (contour plowing and strip
– Use trees and other wind barriers to reduce forces of winds