No-till and cover crops vs. erosion

Cover crops
Cover crops

By Grace Leslie

Erosion is a natural process that will occur through wind, water and other natural agents, and can even be made worse through poor management. With that said, we cannot truly stop erosion, but there are ways to keep nutrient soil where it lays.

The first 6 to 8 inches of soil, also known as topsoil, sustains plant and microbial life that is important to our crops and fields. There are two best management practices that will aid in promoting healthy soil and limit erosion: no-till farming and cover crops.

No-till farming

Minimal disturbance in a crop field setting translates into the less we dig up the ground, the better your soil will stay.

No-till planting is one of the best solutions to erosion. When using a no-till drill or planter, a furrow is dug, a seed is planted and then covered, all in the same pass. By no-tilling, you are preserving the soil structure, fostering healthy soil, as well as saving money on fuel and equipment usage.

On the other hand, conventional tillage — where the soil is being dug up and turned over, cultivated and then planted — there is a greater chance of erosion and causing damage to the soil.

Additionally, no-tilling offers improved water infiltration and retention in the soil.

The residue left on top will increase hydration while simultaneously reducing evaporation. Therefore, no-till farming offers producers a much better crop.

Cover crops

Cover crops are planted after the main crop has been harvested when otherwise the soil would be bare. There are a variety of different crops available to use for cover crops and all of them can target a specific need for your soil.

Using a no-till practice and cover crops mimics a more natural ecosystem. Crops covering the soil surface shield it from the force of raindrops and high winds, while also regulating soil temperature and preserving soil moisture.

Having the coverage from these crops with roots in the ground protects the soil, thus, limiting the likelihood of erosion.

The higher yield advantages of no-till farming will not be visible right away, especially without the use of cover crops. Think of no-till like a marathon instead of a sprint.

Experts say it will take roughly seven to nine years to reap the benefits of no-till planting. It will take over five years to replenish the soil and correct the harm done by conventional tillage.

However, with the use of cover crops and no-till, producers could see higher yields within one year. Cover crops will help add specific nutrients in the soil, which will create more sustainable soil.

Growing cover crops along with no-tilling will help farmers adapt faster and achieve economical and environmental benefits.

Erosion is a problem for many producers in our area. By using best management practices, we are able to limit the effects of erosion. Through no-till planting and limiting our soil disturbance, as well as using cover crops to strengthen soil and protect against wind and rain, there is a much diminished chance for erosion to take place. Through these practices, not only are we limiting erosion but innovating the way we farm.

(Grace Leslie is a summer intern with Carroll Soil and Water Conservation District. She is studying middle grades education at Ashland University.)

Get our Top Stories in Your Inbox

Next step: Check your inbox to confirm your subscription.



We are glad you have chosen to leave a comment. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated according to our comment policy.

Receive emails as this discussion progresses.