Recently I spent some time driving east from Oklahoma to southeastern Missouri to visit some farmers in the Delta region for our magazine.
I’ve heard of some soil erosion problems occurring in the Delta, which includes the Bootheel region of southeastern Missouri where corn, popcorn, cotton, soybeans and wheat are popular.
But I was shocked to see that despite receiving about 50 inches of rain annually, many farmers in the Bootheel have at least some irrigation! Raised beds are popular in that region and that requires several passes with tillage equipment in the fall and spring.
For those of you in the Great Plains trying to just harvest 12-15 inches of moisture to grow a crop and make a buck, can you imagine what would be possible if you got even half of that Delta rain?
But some changes are taking place in the Delta. A group of courageous growers in the Bootheel is putting the soils first and implementing no-till practices and cover crops. Their goal is, one day, to eliminate the need for irrigation and fully utilize what Mother Nature provides. One grower who was spending $37-$102 an acre per tillage trip is putting most of that money back into cover crops.
Some no-tillers have also formed the Missouri Delta Soil Health Alliance to continue pushing for change in farming systems to promote the benefits of soil health management in the region.
Yes, these no-tillers report getting some funny looks from neighbors who drive by and see tall stands of rape, turnips and other covers standing in their fields in the spring. But if this rapid change in farming systems works, these no-tillers may be laughing all the way to the bank down the road.
The point here is that safeguarding and managing moisture, to keep it on your fields, really starts with soil health — whether you’re getting 50 inches of rain per year or only 12 inches. You cannot increase organic matter and water-holding capacity in soils with tillage.
Great Plains no-tillers may not have the options of someone who gets four-dozen inches of rain every year, but investing in soil health now will help you take advantage of what moisture you do receive.