Blake Vince doesn’t believe farmers are facing a nutrient runoff problem, but something else.

“We have a soil water infiltration problem,” he told a group of people attending the Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority (LTVCA) Farm to Coast tour.

As reported by the Chatham Daily News, the 30-year no-till veteran and cover crop user from Merlin, Ontario, explained that tillage creates loose soil with less organic matter. So instead of making its way through the soil profile, water just runs off the surface, taking soil and algae bloom-causing phosphorus (P) with it.

Recent data supports his statements. At a news conference last week, Ohio State University research scientist Elizabeth Dayton shared that nearly ¾ of P in surface runoff is attached to, and travels with, eroded soil sediment.

A progress report from the Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers Assn., Ohio Soybean Council and Ohio Soybean Assn. emphasized that this makes “erosion control a key to P runoff control.”

But I found it interesting that while the report cites conservation practices as key to reducing erosion, it doesn’t specifically mention no-till or cover crops as methods to implement — even though erosion control is one of the main benefits and often a primary motivator — for those who adopt those practices.

I also found it interesting that the report encouraged tile drainage as a means for preventing the loss of nutrients, crediting it for reducing erosion. While that may be true, USDA research ag engineer Kevin King has shared that research conducted by the USDA-ARS found that when comparing surface runoff and tile runoff, tile was the major contributor in annual dissolved reactive P loading. You can read more about this research — and what no-tillers can do to prevent runoff via tile drainage — in the upcoming November edition of Conservation Tillage Guide.

Ohio State and the USDA-ARS both agree that soil testing and injecting or banding fertilizer are best practices all growers can adopt to help keep nutrients on their farm and out of local waterways. Ohio State data indicates that banding or injecting fertilizer has the potential to reduce the concentration risk of P in runoff up to 90% under certain conditions.

As we continue to learn more about the runoff problem and what growers can do to be part of the solution, I think no-tillers like Blake Vince are on the right track. We’ll continue to see less runoff and cleaner water the more growers focus on practices that improve the soil.