Fixing gullies the right way

Field runoff
Runoff from a farmer's field in central Ohio.

Late harvest on beans and field corn last year forced many producers to plant their cover crops late and some fields were left bare over winter into early spring.

A wet fall followed by intense early spring rainfall has led to many fields across the area with considerable gully erosion.

While your first impulse may be to till in the gullies, take a moment to examine why they formed.

  • Was it because of increased rainfall rates and/or a lack of water infiltration?
  • Was it from concentrated flows from neighboring land?
  • Water concentrating in a wheel track? Furrow? Or end row?

Each of these causes may need a different practice to reduce the chance of gully erosion in the future Treatments.

Cropping methods

Crop perpendicular to your slopes. This can reduce the chance of gulley formation.

Also, strip cropping with contouring can help slow the velocity of water on erosive soils.

Soil structure producers can keep more water in the soil profile by improving soil structure with continuous no-till and adequate crop residue.

Field gullies usually form in the same place year after year. Tillage destroys soil structure and reduces residue, leaving the soil surface bare.

Also, a diverse crop rotation can help build soil fertility as well as increase water holding capacity.

Cover crops

I’ll go a step even further. How about early planted covers?

Some of the gullies that I’ve seen this spring have been on cereal rye after late harvest.

Covers were planted well within NRCS guidelines but still didn’t have enough time to establish and be effective with the weather conditions.

We need to get cover crops planted earlier in the fall to have a greater impact on our soil erosion and long-term soil and water quality.

Think about an aerial application on fields that are notoriously difficult to get into late in the year.

Grassed waterways

With highly concentrated flows, soil needs extra protection to keep it from washing away.

A permanent grassed waterway will protect and anchor the soil. Grassed waterways also need maintenance and typically have a lifespan of 10 years.

The waterway should be sized to handle 10-year frequency, 24-hour duration storm.

Water can jump waterways and form new paths for the water to flow if not properly designed and maintained. Reach out to your local NRCS/SWCD for assistance with design.


Also, USDA just reopened continuous CRP enrollment June 4, which includes grassed waterways.

If the ground has been cropland and your thinking about adding a waterway stop by your local FSA office to sign up before it’s capped.


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