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Keeping soil in place
Dr. Victor Martin

The drought monitor report as of April 16 is showing conditions continuing to deteriorate. The state went from 19% of the state out of dry conditions to only 3%. Most of Western Kansas is now abnormally dry with moderate drought expanding. Severe drought is moving northward into Stafford County. The six to ten-day outlook (April 23 to 27) indicates a 60 to 70% chance of likely above normal temperatures and a 40 to 50% chance of leaning to above normal precipitation. The eight to 14-day outlook (April 25 to May 1) indicates a 70 to 80% chance of likely above normal for temperatures and a continued 40 to 50% leaning above normal for precipitation.  

It’s hard not to notice, that even for Kansas, this spring’s weather has been windy. Very windy. Weather patterns over the last several years have exhibited stronger wind events, especially late winter to spring. Combined with the lack of precipitation, this has resulted in soil erosion from wind. As this column has discussed before, topsoil, the soil A horizon, is a very valuable resource and it can take hundreds of years to generate a single inch of topsoil. There have been several days over the last month where sky turned a hazy brown and overcast from moving soil. The more productive soil fraction, silt and clay, is lost leaving sand behind. Losing topsoil combined with climate change and its more extreme weather presents a challenge not only for crop and livestock production but many offsite effects.  

Wind blown soil can destroy/bury offsite vegetation, fill in ditches, and end up in surface waters. It can cause serious illness and long-term negative health effects when inhaled. It’s even possible for certain lung infections to be caused inhaling this dust.

Producers are already farming soil negatively affected by the Dust Bowl. We had made progress over the last several decades in protecting the soil by adopting conservation tillage measures, especially no-tillage and strip-tillage. However, over the last decade we have seen an increase in tillage as producers cope with herbicide resistant weeds, especially glyphosate resistance. There are alternative herbicides that help but they are much more expensive.  

Here in Western Kansas we are in a unique position. We have to deal with both wind and water erosion. As you move east and into the traditional Corn Belt, wind erosion isn’t really a concern. This means we have a double whammy. Wind erosion combined with a lack of soil cover leads to more severe water erosion, especially with the heavy downpours we can expect.

We all know the problem and are living through it. Next week – How to work towards dealing with the problem.

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