Letters to the Editor

Soil concerns

July 5, 2007


To the editor:

Farmland in Douglas County is being developed as if in endless supply. It takes 500 years for nature to form one inch of fertile topsoil. Nevertheless, we're scraping it away, paving it over, contaminating it, depleting its nutrients, allowing it to erode, squandering it in countless ways.

Douglas County has some of the richest topsoil in the world, yet we're so concerned about growth, an expanding tax base and "progress" that we're willing to allow even floodplains to be developed (e.g. around the airport). We're acting as if we are ignorant about natural environments having a "carrying capacity" determining how many people and how much use and abuse they can withstand. We get angry when others destroy irreplaceable rain forests (partly to raise food Americans want in mass quantities) but ignore our own destruction of irreplaceable farmland.

As a result, there is a looming food crisis - as population increases and farmland decreases, food becomes scarce. At current rates of development, by 2050, the United States will have 0.6 of an acre of farmland for each American, as opposed to the current 1.8 acres or the 1.2 acres required for current U.S. dietary standards.

Food prices will quadruple, the United States will cease having food to export, the trade deficit will expand dramatically, and starvation will increase worldwide due to our diminished food-growing capacity. The bottom line is we're foolishly destroying the land that feeds us - wasting precious wealth beyond anything "development" can offer.

Sandra Sanders,



gabbo 10 years, 8 months ago

Would pointing out that we are talking about a SOD farm be akin to pointing out that the precious Baker wetlands were once also home to working farmers, prior to the Imminent Domain of the world's most influential frogs?

Horatio Bfor 10 years, 8 months ago

The biggest factor in food costs going up is the price of oil.

Oracle_of_Rhode 10 years, 8 months ago

Good letter. When the oil runs out, we will no longer enjoy Cesar salads that came 3,000 miles to our plates. We'll need the land around Lawrence for crops.

DaveR 10 years, 8 months ago

It's a nice thought, but gross overpopulation presents its own problems. The most effective way of arranging people on the land, so as to enhance whatever we've got left, is with effective government & responsible corporations. That won't happen with an angry, indifferent, often selfish population. It's already clear that education has no practical effect in this & many other areas (KU, KU, where are you?). My one remaining hope is that the media will take a leadership role, but, well, I'm not hopeful.

farmgal 10 years, 8 months ago

Good insights & a great letter, Sandra. I heard my dad preach the same thing about top soil 45+ years ago & everyone laughed at him then.

When it comes to farm lands being gobbled up for development, I too wonder, what this country is going to do for food when we've paved everything over? I look at what's happened to the price of hay. As more city dwellers decide to move to the country, there is less and less pasture & hay fields. Some day there will be none left if people don't come to their senses.

Kookamooka 10 years, 8 months ago

The old adage, "Build it and they will come" is a myth. In order to attract new business to Lawrence, there has to be affordable commercial locations available. Existing storefronts and buildings lie dormant only because the creative, interested parties who want to start small businesses can't afford them. More pricey development projects are a waste of capital and energy.

I dream of a day when the city will re-claim all of the property in Downtown Lawrence in the interest of Public Domain, and send the "overlords" who gauge the small businesses and prevent retail growth packing. It isn't a very capitalist argument, but the men who control the means in the city can't be convinced to negotiate their rental prices. They seem to function like a cartel.

I agree with Ms. Sanders that farm land is as important and could potentially be MORE important than empty commercial space. Make Farmland Farm Land. Because we can build more multi family housing, but no one has to come.

farmgal 10 years, 8 months ago

"Even should we face a net loss in farmland in the Midwest, much of the abandoned farms in the eastern states could be used to compensate."

Looking to other states hundreds of miles away does not absolve people here to act in a responsible manner when it comes to the destruction of topsoil.

gr 10 years, 8 months ago

"Would pointing out that we are talking about a SOD farm be akin to pointing out"

The difference between a sod farm and a housing development/buildings/parking lots is that the sod farm could always be planted to food within a year.

blackwalnut 10 years, 8 months ago

Great letter.

Good luck getting this city commission to think about the long-term health of our city and her people, instead of a development bubble that will enrich them and their friends.

nettieb 10 years, 8 months ago

I said it before, I'll say it again.

Blah, blah, blah, precious land, blah blah, development bad.

Get up off your ass, buy the land the be developed, and start growing food, or quit telling everyone else what to do with their money.

RedwoodCoast 10 years, 8 months ago

Did someone say something bad about biofuels? Taking up acreage that could be used for food production? Well, people grow corn to produce ethanol. Corn is one of the most fertilizer-dependant crops a farmer can grow. But what about all that corn that farmers currently grow in Kansas? Well, it looks like about 90% of that is going to become food. Food for people? Nope. Food to make cattle fat so people can have their beef. And don't forget about all of the BT and "Roundup-Ready" corn out there. Hey, you got weeds? Just spray this on them til they're gone. Won't hurt the corn, it's "ready." Just keep spraying til the weeds die. But what happens when the weeds are finally "ready"? Thanks Monsanto.

I have a friend (a soil scientist) whose father is an agronomist in North Dakota. Agronomists geek out about things like weeds conferences. My friend said his father quit going to weeds conferences in the Midwest because all they talk about is Roundup Ready this and Roundup Ready that. In my opinion, modern agricultral practices are pretty damaging to topsoil anyway. And most of that corn acreage doesn't directly feed people in the first place. Furthermore, eastern Kansas was originally primarily grasslands. How much grassland do you see out there now? So guess what, the ecosystem that created those topsoils is pretty much defunct in that region. So yes, we do need to preserve what topsoil we do have, but I do think that many developers are more interested in getting subdivisions built and making bank than they are about preserving dirt. Unfortunately, we do live in a society of prestige and achievement. I like dirt, but I guarantee that most people don't even think about its complexity and value. So good letter.

farmgal 10 years, 8 months ago

RedwoodCoast, thanks for bringing something insightful to the table instead of some unnecessary jibberish: "Nor does quoting my post absolve you of the responsibility to read and understand my post before replying to it." (Das_Ubermime) I'm not surprised at all that your friend's father quit going to weed conferences in the Midwest. I'm sure he learned quickly that Roundup Ready is the King here in the Midwest!

Mkh 10 years, 8 months ago

Great letter with a very important point. We are going to face a serious energy crisis in the near future which will directly impact our food production and we will need much greater land areas for agriculture in our communities.

Ragingbear 10 years, 8 months ago

Corn is a sin. It's in the Old Testament. Look it up.

erod0723 10 years, 8 months ago

"When it comes to farm lands being gobbled up for development, I too wonder, what this country is going to do for food when we've paved everything over? I" Everything being paved means that there will be more McDonalds and Burger Kings, so thats where will get our food.

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