Washington State University professor Tim Murray drove a white truck across a farm field where the winter wheat and rye look sick.
Murray scooped a cup of dirt and used a pH meter to test it. The meter revealed what has become alarming to farmers: The soil was as acidic as a cup of black coffee.
Soil acidification is killing crops at a slow but increasing rate in some places in Eastern Washington. It’s a long-term problem that’s caused by adding nitrogen to the soil to increase crop yield. Acidification causes compounds such as aluminum sulfate to form, which is deadly to crops. In the short term, farmers can’t justify the costs of traditional solutions like spreading limestone on the soil because it costs too much to transport.