Soil and dirt are different things


I did not come up with the name for this column; The Dirt on Conservation. I don’t know about you but I do NOT conserve dirt at my house. Actually, I resent the time I spend cleaning to get rid of it!

There are many other things I would rather be doing like working in the flower bed or riding my bike. I’ve always told students I work with, dirt is what we sweep up off the floor and soil is where our plants grow. These plants are grown from seeds planted in soil to provide food for all us.

This may be simplifying it but isn’t that why soil is important to most of us? I could not enjoy a dip of ice cream that comes from milk that comes from the cow if there wasn’t grass or grain planted in the soil for the cow to eat.


Soil is a complex mixture of minerals, organic plant and animal remains, air and water. It is home to many living organisms, which play an important role in breaking down the organic material.

Think about the billions of organisms at work beneath your feet when you stand on the soil. They are part of a cycle that returns valuable nutrients to the soil. Without these creatures, the plants we depend on for food could not grow.

Our plants grow in the topsoil which is the most easily eroded layer. When water and wind move the soil it also takes fertilizers, pesticides, and manure with it and ends up in streams and lakes causing pollution.

Finger pointing

Farmers are usually the first ones to get blamed when a problem is detected but in reality, we ALL contribute to the problem. This type of pollution is called non-point source pollution and is the most challenging to prevent.

Construction site erosion, fertilizers from lawns and golf courses, oil leaks from parking lots, pet or livestock waste and sedimentation from farm fields are all contributors to this type of pollution.

Farmers account for just 2 percent of the population, yet they control more tillable acres than the rest of the population combined. No-till, minimum tillage, pest management, crop rotations and manure nutrient management plans are just a few ways that farmers work with their local soil and water conservation districts to protect their land and keep the water clean.

Buffer strips or filter strips are a popular agricultural practice in our county. These strips of vegetation are planted next to the streams and help filter sedimentation and runoff from adjoining farm fields.

Taking care of the soil or conserving the soil benefits everyone. It can take up to 500 years to form an inch of topsoil so the soil that is lost today will not be replaced in our lifetime.

Best alternative

It is much cheaper to keep the soil on the land than the costs associated with dredging sediment out of our lakes and rivers. Taking care of this most precious resource should be everyone’s responsibility.

Contact your local soil and water conservation district for ideas or practices that will help conserve soil on your farm.


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Raised on a grain farm in Morrow County, Deb Bigelow is the program administrator for the Coshocton Soil and Water Conservation District. She can be reached at



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