What is in this article?:
- Slow Your Soil | Southwest Iowa Growers Fight to Safeguard Soil Amid Weather Extremes
- No-till and terraces stem soil losses
- Put soil back
Bill and Babetta Lucke of Persia, Iowa, battle extreme weather, like so many farmers recently. As 12-year no-till veterans with terraced slopes and miles of grass waterways, the southwest Iowa farmers have a new twist on conservation. Instead of disking field gullies closed, Bill uses an 8-yard scraper to push soil back up hills to fill field gullies. It takes some time to pack it so it doesn’t move, but it’s well worth it, he says. Filled with fertile topsoil that has washed downhill over the decades, the repaired gullies “sometimes yield better than the rest of the field.”
No-till and terraces stem soil losses
The Luckes shifted from a conventional two-pass tillage system to no-till in the mid-1990s after Babetta joined the Harrison County Soil and Water Conservation District board of commissioners.
Bill experimented for three years before he switched over to no-till for both soybeans and corn, comparing yields in side-by-side trials. “I couldn’t see any yield differences at all,” he says. In a good year, his soils are capable of producing 190-210-bu. corn and 50-60-bu. soybeans.
Bill broadcasts P and K in the fall and injects anhydrous ammonia in the spring. Front coulters and trash whippers on his Kinze planter provide adequate residue management for corn, he says. He removes the trash whippers for soybean planting. His no-till weed management system includes pre-emergence soil-applied herbicides for both corn and beans followed by a post-emergence glyphosate application. “We’ve had good luck with this system.”
In the decade since they quit tilling, the Luckes have watched their soil organic matter climb, and the soil seems softer, Bill says. Water cuts fewer field gullies, and “our terraces last probably twice as long because they’re not filling in with silt and sediment.”
The Luckes have also invested in some grass buffers along creeks, two water-storage ponds that collect runoff, and spillways on two ditch outlets to trap sediment. Bill also spends a lot of time maintaining his grass waterways and terraces.
Of all these conservation practices, no-till and terraces are the most effective for holding on to the topsoil, they say. “The water quality is better with the terraces, too,” Bill says, “and residue from the no-till holds the soil and chemicals from going into the streams.” But, “the terraces need to be maintained to be effective.” At harvest, he maps spots in need of repairs. “We see a lot of terraces full of sediment, so they will not hold water after heavy rains.”