Even the most die-hard winter fan must be hoping that spring is right around the corner. I don’t fall into the category of liking winter; I simply endure it. Most days I find myself needing an attitude of perseverance to get through this time of year.
I like this quote about perseverance: “Don’t be discouraged. It’s often the last key in the bunch that opens the lock.” ~Author Unknown
I am looking forward to warmer days and green landscapes. But spring brings challenges when we think about heavy rains and run off and how best to protect our soil and water resources.
Soil is an essential natural resource that all of us depend on each and every day for our food and fiber. The Dust Bowl of the 1930’s showed our nation the importance of conservation practices.
Farmers and ranchers who have experienced recent droughts know that conservation practices are critical in helping their soil endure, even in the most challenging weather events. The pictures we’ve seen recently on the national news about the drought conditions in California exemplify this.
Some soil erosion is a natural process, but accelerated erosion is not. Many times human decisions play a role in this accelerated erosion process. Erosion reduces the productivity of agricultural soils, fills road ditches, and carries pollutants into streams. It pays economically and environmentally to keep soil in place.
Sheet and gully erosion
The two types of erosion that we see most often are sheet and gully erosion and it can happen even when our landowners have the best of intentions. Sheet erosion is the gradual loss of a thin layer or “sheet” of soil. Soil loss is figured in tons per acre; a very hard concept to visualize. Ten tons of soil lost per acre equals the thickness of a dime making it difficult to see.
For agricultural purposes, four to five ton per acre is the tolerable soil loss. Tolerable soil loss is the amount of soil that can be lost before you begin to lose sustainable plant growth. Gully erosion occurs when runoff water accumulates and rapidly flows in narrow channels during or immediately after heavy rains or melting snow, removing soil to a considerable depth.
Look for these clues of sheet and gully erosion:
• Small rills or gullies begin to show
• Cloudy or muddy water flows down the field, road, or driveway
• Pebbles and plant pieces are supported on “pedestals” of soil because the surrounding soil has been eroded away
• Sediment builds up at low spots in the field.
• Streams and rivers run cloudy after a rain.
Both types of erosion can be very difficult to correct and you are going to need perseverance to correct the problems. Filter strips and buffers, grassed waterways, conservation tillage, contour farming, cover crops, and pasture management are a few examples of best management practices to help solve your erosion issues.
Use a combination
These practices are more effective when they are used in combination. One conservation practice does not fit every erosion problem. Your soils, climate, topography, and cropping system will require a unique action plan.
Talk to your local conservation district and request technical assistance to assist you with installing conservation practices to help prevent erosion on your farm.