An Appropriate Agriculture for Rhode Island – Soils

A bit of background on the State’s soils….

Agricultural soils in Rhode Island are rated within classes – Class I being soils with few agricultural limitations to Class VIII being soils whose limitations preclude any agricultural use.

5% of Rhode Island’s soils are Class I (approximately 22,000 acres). Another 110,000 acres are Class II which have some limitations that reduce crop choice and require moderate conservation practices. I was unable to determine the amount of these two Classes that have been made unusable because some form of development (residential, commercial, roadway, etc.), but from looking at current land use estimate over 60,000 acres of agricultural land.

In order for those soils to be utilized in a manner that creates minimal negative environmental impacts, the Class I and Class II soils need to be amended with natural composts, compost teas, nutrient mulches, etc. Planting needs to be conservative of the topsoil through no-till, cover crops, crop rotation, etc. Irrigation needs to be conservative through a micro-irrigation system that allows the application of natural compost teas (seaweed, comfrey, etc.).

Treated in a agro-ecologically thoughtful manner, Class I and Class II soils will yield robust and diverse crops, provide adequate fodder for livestock, and maintain their resilience over decades of use.

As an aside, two related points: 1) the effects of climate change is currently affecting both plants and animals in the State – causing adaptation in soil use practices, 2) the State government, The Nature Conservancy, and community land trusts have placed agricultural easements and bought agricultural properties actively in the State – this creates ambiguity about the availability of land and long term sustainable use for farmers (more about this in a future blog entry…I’m researching data).

Yesterday I visited the State’s largest cranberry grower. We noticed significant poison ivy…and the grower told us over the past few years increased atmospheric carbon dioxide has significantly increased the amount of invasive poison ivy in their bogs.