What is in this article?:
Mark Riechers and his son Joe raise corn, soybeans and cattle on rolling slopes near Darlington in southwestern Wisconsin’s Driftless Area. Their erodible loess soils have been in continuous no-till for more than 20 years. After two decades without being disturbed, the soil is rich with what Mark calls “dirt critters,” the beneficial organisms that build soil structure and tilth. “Because we don’t disrupt the soil structure with tillage, it can take a lot of water,” he says.
As a result of their farming practices, which also include grass waterways and multiple thin applications of solid manure, just 2% of annual rainfall ran off the Riechers’ farm, according to 7 years of monitoring by the University of Wisconsin Discovery Farms. Sediment losses averaged about 300 pounds per year, or 3% of NRCA “tolerable” loss. “It’s not just no-till,” Mark says, “it’s a combination of things.”
3. Intense rainstorms
Risk - Up
Intense, 5- or 6-inch rain events in parts of Illinois this spring caused residue movement and soil erosion, says Mike Plumer, Illinois Council of Best Management Practices. Conservation practices and no-till significantly reduced the impact of these rains, he says, but the intensity caused erosion even on farms with good conservation practices.
It was the same in Southeast Minnesota and other Corn Belt areas. “Climate science is pointing to more spring seasons like this one, and more intense rainfall events,” says Tim Radatz, research specialist for the Minnesota Agricultural Water Resource Center. One heavy downpour on unprotected soil can cause the majority of annual soil and nutrient losses. “This is really important when we look at ways to reduce runoff.”
Adds Frame, “You can’t control big storms, but you can design and implement farming systems that provide as much protection as possible from those storm events. You can plan for 25-year, 24-hour storms.”