The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic shutdowns in the US food system have severely disrupted and highlighted weaknesses. Farmers, food retailers and government departments are trying to reconfigure supply chains so food can meet where it needs to go. But there is a hidden, long-neglected dimension to be addressed as the nation is rebuilding from the current crisis as well.
As researchers who research different facets of agriculture, diet and food systems, at the very base of the food system we are concerned about a main vulnerability: agriculture. Soil quality on farms and ranches throughout the U.S. today is severely endangered. It was destroyed by traditional agricultural methods and much of it was shorn away by erosion.
Disrupted food system
Around 1850 Iowa lost almost half of the topsoil it had. The agricultural soils in America have lost almost half in their organic matter since they were first plowed-the deep, spongy decomposed plant and animal tissue that helps make them fertile.
The soil that provides the food supplies for our nation is a compromised source. That is gradually collapsing under continuing pressure. This breakdown is not as dramatic as what happened during the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. But it is just as worrisome. Human history has many examples of once-thriving agricultural regions around the world. Where failure to maintain soil health has degraded entire regions far below their potential agricultural productivity. Making the descendants of those who wrecked their land impoverished.
We believe the rebuilding of soil health across the U.S. is urgently there. This will help to sustain long-term harvests and lay a strong basis for a more robust food system. Investing in soil quality can improve the environment and human health. In ways that are becoming even more obvious and important.
Now that much of the national food supply network deconstructed by COVID-19. It would be a mistake to pour efforts into simply rebuilding a flawed system. Instead, we believe it is time for the U.S. food system to be new from the ground up. So that it can deliver both soil and human health and be more resilient to future challenges.