Researcher Rick Haney travels the U.S. preaching the benefits of healthy soils. In a Yale Environment 360 interview, he talks about the folly of pursuing ever-greater crop yields using fertilizers and other chemicals and how farmland can by restored through natural methods.
The soil health movement has been in the news lately, and among its leading proponents is U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) researcher Rick Haney. In a world where government agencies and agribusiness have long pursued the holy grail of maximum crop yield, Haney preaches a different message: The quest for ever-greater productivity — using fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and whatever other chemicals are at hand — is killing our soil and threatening our farms.
Haney, who works with the USDA’s Agriculture Research Service in Texas, conducts online seminars and travels the country teaching farmers how to create healthy soil. His message is simple: Although the United States has some of the richest soils in the world, decades of agricultural abuse have taken their toll, depleting the dirt of essential nutrients and killing off bacteria and fungi that create organic material essential to plants. “Our mindset nowadays is that if you don’t put down fertilizer, nothing grows,” says Haney, who has developed a well-known method for testing soil health. “But that’s just not true, and it never has been.”