If you walk into your house with mud on your boots, you’ll likely make a dirty mess. The mud dries, and you sweep it into a pile of dirt. Don’t bother planting anything in it because it’s just a pile of dirt.
The Soil Science Society of America defines dirt as ‘displaced soil’, which means it’s no longer where it belongs. It belongs on the ground in your yard, garden, and farm fields where it creates that wonderful layer of material in which plants grow to provide food, shelter, and many wonders to sustain our human existence.
Soil is a living environment. It contains microorganisms, decaying organic matter, earthworms, insects, and nutrients which allow plants to grow and thrive.
In the simplest terms, Soil & Water Conservation Districts exist to help keep soil where it belongs and to help keep soil healthy for a thriving world. In partnership with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources and Conservation Services (USDA NCRS), local county Soil & Water Conservation Districts work to educate land owners, farmers, and the community to become better stewards of our natural resources.
“Water quality problems are often symptoms, not the cause,” says Jon Matz, District Conservationist, about the work his team does to protect and conserve Iowa’s natural resources. “Today, we focus on soil health, treating soil as a living, breathing thing. We focus on the biology of soil so that healthy soil does the job of taking care of conservation.”
According to the NRCS, surface soil particles are held together by various organic substances. Soil organisms increase in abundance and in the variety of species represented when soil is not disturbed. Fungi, in particular, make proteins such as glomalin, that ooze into the soil and help glue soil particles together. It’s this “soil glue” that creates stable soil aggregates, gluing soil particles to help maintain pores and channels in the soil for air and water to enter and move through it. Soil aggregates are more stable and harder to wash away than individual soil particles during rain storms.
With less run off, soil stays where it belongs, waterways remain cleaner, crops produce greater yields and ultimately, our natural environment is healthier and sustainable.
The USDA NRCS provides some federal funding, technical assistance, and management oversight in partnership with the Muscatine County Soil & Water Conservation District to promote, create, and manage natural resource conservation plans with local land owners and farmers.
The Muscatine County Soil & Water Conservation District is governed by an elected Board of Commissioners from around the county. Five commissioners are elected at general elections on a nonpartisan basis for staggered four-year terms. Three commissioner positions are on the ballot next month.
Federal, state, and district technicians and conservationists all work together out of the same office at 3500 Oakview Drive in Muscatine.
The staff assists with all kinds of natural resource concerns like water quality in a Muscatine yard or on a 100-acre farm field; to growing vegetables on the Muscatine Island with irrigation; to constructing terraces in the hills near Wild Cat Den.
“When someone comes to our counter,” says Matz, “We make it as seamless as possible to get them the best technical assistance for whatever natural resource concern they have.”