Soil can be degraded by several natural or human-mediated processes, including wind, water, or tillage erosion, and formation of undesirable physical, chemical, or biological properties due to industrialization or use of inappropriate farming practices. Soil degradation occurs whenever these processes supersede natural soil regeneration and, generally, reflects unsustainable resource management that is global in scope and compromises world food security. In North America, soil degradation preceded the catastrophic wind erosion associated with the dust bowl during the 1930s, but that event provided the impetus to improve management of soils degraded by both wind and water erosion. Chemical degradation due to site specific industrial processing and mine spoil contamination began to be addressed during the latter half of the 20th century primarily through point-source water quality concerns, but soil chemical degradation and contamination of surface and subsurface water due to on-farm non-point pesticide and nutrient management practices generally remains unresolved. Remediation or prevention of soil degradation requires integrated management solutions that, for agricultural soils, include using cover crops or crop residue management to reduce raindrop impact, maintain higher infiltration rates, increase soil water storage, and ultimately increase crop production. By increasing plant biomass, and potentially soil organic carbon (SOC) concentrations, soil degradation can be mitigated by stabilizing soil aggregates, improving soil structure, enhancing air and water exchange, increasing nutrient cycling, and promoting greater soil biological activity.
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