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How to keep soil in place
Dr. Victor Martin

The drought monitor report wasn’t out as this was written but it’s safe to safe not much has changed in our area. We are still in moderate drought and it has likely intensified. Hopefully the forecasted rain the past several days will make a dent. The six to ten-day outlook (April 30 to May 4) indicates a 80 to 90% chance of likely above normal temperatures and a 33 to 40% chance of leaning to above normal precipitation. The eight to 14-day outlook (May 2 to 8) indicates a 60 to 80% chance of likely above normal for temperatures and a continued 33 to 40% leaning above normal for precipitation. These temperatures, combined with the moderate drought are exactly what we don’t need for wheat and corn/soybean planting. Hopefully, the above normal precipitation happens.  

Last week’s article discussed the wind erosion Western Kansas has experienced this winter/spring. This week the wind was moving soil and turning the sky hazy brown, blowing silt and clay from fields. Today, what can we do to protect this vital resource from wind and water erosion while producing crops?

• First, the easiest, yet most challenging, to keep soil from blowing. Wet soil doesn’t blow. So, naturally precipitation is the easiest way and most unreliable solution. Irrigators have more options. The key here is to minimize unnecessarily losing soil water and to keep it covered. First, minimize tillage or eliminate tillage. For row crops, strip tillage can help. If tillage is needed, and it certainly can be, leave as much residue as practical on the soil surface. Chemical weed control, even with herbicide resistant weeds, is preferable but can be expensive. If tillage is necessary for hard pans and compacted soils, vertical tillage is an option. This helps with wind and water erosion.

• One of the best ways, if possible to keep the soils in place is the inclusion of cover crops. This can be as simple as planting wheat or rye over the winter and terminating it prior to spring planting. There are much more beneficial, and expensive, cover crop blends including various legumes to provide nitrogen for subsequent crops. Another plus to cover crops is grazing livestock. If good cover crops are possible and left in place, it can greatly aid in weed control.  It can also help with the next point.

• Increasing organic matter content, through cover crops or manure, stabilizes soil structure while increasing the water and nutrient holding content of the soil. This takes time and is much easier as tillage is eliminated.  

• Shelterbelts, as old-fashioned as they seem are also effective but they take a great deal of work to establish and maintain. Unfortunately, many have been taken out and other need a great deal of maintenance.

• If the soil is moving and you have subsoil moisture, strips of tillage perpendicular to the wind can help temporarily and can spreading manure on the surface.

• Anything that provides surface roughness and cover helps with erosion.

Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207, or