This year’s drought not only shorted vegetation of moisture, it reduced plant growth and protective cover for the soil. Conservation officials warn that the drought made soil vulnerable to erosion, and any tillage will make conditions only worse.
Soil Quality Specialist Jeff Hemenway of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Huron said if producers reduce tillage or increase surface residue, they can increase infiltration rates.
“When we do get moisture, there will be more water going into that soil profile,” Hemenway said. “Surface residue will reduce erosion. And, by using residue to keep water in the profile, there will be more organic matter in the soil development as well as macro pore development.”
Hemenway said that even reduced tillage this year can be more damaging than usual because the crop residue is very fragile. “If producers do tillage out there this fall, a greater portion of that residue will get buried,” he said. “When residue is buried rather than left on the soil surface, farmers open themselves up for wind and water erosion.”
Eliminating disturbance by tillage, Hemenway said, will help the soil absorb moisture when it returns. “Raindrops falling on bare soil dislodge soil particles, resulting in water erosion,” he said. “Residue from vegetation intercepts the force of the raindrops, letting more water infiltrate the soil profile instead of becoming runoff.”
Standing residue also is important in anchoring soil. Hemenway advised farmers to think into the future on keeping residue cover on fields. Some of the worst wind erosion occurs in March and April, and standing crop residue slashes the force of strong winds during these months.