Risk - Down

You can’t control your farm’s soil type, slope, or rainfall timing and intensity — all factors that affect erosion rates. “But you can control how you protect the soil surface,” Helmers says. Reducing or eliminating tillage is the best way to keep your soil in place, he says. On erodible fields, no-till can cut soil loss by up to 90%, according to Iowa Learning Farms Project models.

Illinois farmers are embracing reduced tillage and cover crops to prevent erosion and improve soil quality and infiltration, Plumer says. More than 80% of the state’s soybeans are no-till; fall chisel plowing has decreased, and many Illinois growers have shifted to shallow vertical tillage, which minimizes soil disturbance and leaves a protective residue cover on the soil, Plumer says.

He also sees more cover crop adoption, including cereal rye, ryegrass, oats, oilseed radish and mixtures. Despite the agronomic and management challenges, some 200,000 acres of Illinois cropland were planted with cover crops last fall, Plumer estimates. “Cover crops pretty well eliminated erosion in March and April.”

tillage effect on soil loss