Soil erosion is a naturally occurring process that affects all landforms. In agriculture, soil erosion refers to the wearing away of a field's topsoil by the natural physical forces of water and wind or through forces associated with farming activities such as tillage.
Erosion, whether it is by water, wind or tillage, involves three distinct actions – soil detachment, movement and deposition. Topsoil, which is high in organic matter, fertility and soil life, is relocated elsewhere "on-site" where it builds up over time or is carried "off-site" where it fills in drainage channels. Soil erosion reduces cropland productivity and contributes to the pollution of adjacent watercourses, wetlands and lakes.
Soil erosion can be a slow process that continues relatively unnoticed or can occur at an alarming rate, causing serious loss of topsoil. Soil compaction, low organic matter, loss of soil structure, poor internal drainage, salinisation and soil acidity problems are other serious soil degradation conditions that can accelerate the soil erosion process.
This Factsheet looks at the causes and effects of water, wind and tillage erosion on agricultural land.