As I write this, it’s raining. Again. And the weather forecast shows little clouds with raindrops and lightning bolts almost every day this week.
But you don’t need me to remind you that we had some wet and wild weather this past winter and spring. And a drive through the countryside shows the toll it’s taken on crop fields, as evidenced by the erosion that has taken place over the winter.
The upside of this kind of weather is that it helps conservationists “sell” cover crops and grassed waterways.
No farmer likes to watch his valuable topsoil wash into the nearest stream. But the reality is that many years, cover crops and waterway establishment or maintenance doesn’t make it to the top of the priority list. This year, it’s more obvious than some where these conservation practices should have been.
You don’t even need to look at a topographic map to determine where waterways should be — nature put them in, and it’s not pretty.
Grassed waterways are strips of grass seeded in areas of cropland where water concentrates or flows off a field. The shaping of a natural drainageway and establishment of grass prevents gully erosion and the formation of gullies in fields.
Waterway vegetation may also trap sediment washed from cropland, absorb some chemicals and nutrients from the runoff water and provide cover for small birds and animals. And grass waterways are easier to cross with farm machinery than are natural gullies (just remember to lift the equipment or turn off the sprayer!).
Technical assistance for waterways is available through your local Soil and Water Conservation District/Natural Resources Conservation Service office. Cost-share for waterways may be available through the USDA Continuous Conservation Reserve Program (ask your Farm Service Agency staff for more information).
Waterways should generally have less than 5 percent slope, suitable soils for vegetation, and adequate area for installation. And while a fairly simple practice to establish, they do require some maintenance to keep them functioning properly.
Along the same lines, cover crops made a huge difference this year as well. Two years ago, the Holmes SWCD started an aerial application cover crop program. Our efforts were furthered last year by an Ohio EPA 319 grant to cost-share cover crops in the Killbuck watershed.
We have heard from many of our cover crop participants that they have become true believers in the practice this past winter.
The difference in soil loss between covered fields and bare fields is dramatic, as well as some drainage advantages.
In addition to controlling soil erosion, increased soil health is another benefit of a growing crop. And in the big picture, these conservation practices improve water quality and provide a multitude of other environmental benefits.
Your local soil and water conservation district encourages you to plan ahead to incorporate waterways and cover crops into your operation management plan. As always, contact your local SWCD office for assistance to your conservation needs.