Rain, Rain, and more rain. This is written this past Thursday and more rain likely fell. On the plus side we definitely have a full soil profile and definitely enough moisture for the wheat crop. On the negative side plating is further delayed and the corn planting date for insurance has passed. Is a decent corn crop possible? Yes. But a producer should trade for a shorter maturing corn, especially if planning on planting wheat this fall. The area is still okay for soybeans and grain sorghum but planting as soon as possible is necessary. The biggest problems for the 2019 wheat crop are lodging, certain areas with hail damage and leaf diseases. First cutting alfalfa has been a struggle so far but the rains and cool weather have aided with insect control. Now on to today’s topic – soil conservation.
We will deal with wind erosion next week. It is obvious to anybody driving around the countryside looking at cultivated fields or our creeks/rivers that water erosion has taken place. You can see rills and even small gullies, soil accumulated at the bottom of soils and very muddy water. How can producers minimize and hopefully eliminate water erosion?
• Most importantly minimize or eliminate tillage to allow for the development of a stable soil structure and to allow residue to accumulate on the soil surface. The residue absorbs the impact energy of the rainfall and prevents soil detachment. It also slows the water down and prevents flow and greater infiltration into the soil. A stable soil structure increases the number and size of continuous soil pores which also increases infiltration.
• Anything a producer can do to increase organic matter help content in the soil will increase water holding capacity and increase infiltration capacity. This includes reducing tillage, cover crops, and animal manures.
• On sloping land, a producer can do several things. First plant on the contour of the land, not against it. Terraces, built up portions of soil along the contour, catch the soil if it is moving and decreases the length of slope to keep the soil from moving off-site. Finally, if there are depressions and/or swales, often the best thing to do is put them into grass and use them as a waterway. Some steeper ground may be better suited to permanent pasture or a crop such as alfalfa.
• On small slopes, plant perpendicular to the slope. The rows act as little breaks to interrupt the flow.
• Near bodies of water such as creeks, rivers, or even ponds. Plant buffer strips of permanent vegetation such as perennial grasses to stop the soil and even chemical runoff from entering the water. These can in many cases be used for hay.
• As much as is practical, keep actively growing vegetation present to help hold soil in place, absorb rainfall impact energy, and add organic matter to the soil.
One last caveat. Erosion is a natural process occurring long before human beings were on the Earth. It becomes a problem when humans accelerate erosion and erosion is greater than soil formation.
Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207.