After more than 30 years of no-till, constructing 1,000 terraces and untold grass waterways and turn areas, Ray Gaesser decided to up his soil-protection game in 2011 after an 8-inch overnight rainfall washed out a 20-acre field that spring.

In many ways, the field was Gaesser’s worst nightmare – a rare field in a no-till operation that had been field cultivated to level out the newly tiled field.

The rain started with a 4.25-inch gusher that fell in 1 hour, 10 minutes. Overnight rainfall ranged from 8 to 10 inches.

“It was bad,” says Gaesser, incoming president of the American Soybean Association, who farms near Corning, Iowa, about 70 miles southwest of Des Moines. “It was worse than a one in 500-year event.”

The field, with some 6% slopes, was left with ruts down to the 4-inch tillage depth. Though soil conservation officials had approved the tillage, “it still was an embarrassment,” recalls Gaesser, who farms with his wife Elaine and son Chris.

Weather extreme plans

The sting of the field washout still smarting, Gaesser worked with NRCS on a remediation program. It included grass waterways, a no-till planting system rotating between corn and soybeans, plus a fall-planted cover crop for extra fall, winter and spring soil protection.

The Gaessers also took a hard look at whether their no-till system was up to the task of protecting soil on the most erosive acres across the family’s entire 6,600-acre operation – and decided it wasn’t.

“Up until 3 or 4 years ago, no-till worked for us,” he says. “In the past 4 years, we’ve had three 4-inch rain events in 1 hour. No-till, terraces and waterways can’t handle that. I believe we are in a cycle of extreme weather. These extremes are what we have to prepare for.”