Preserving soil means protecting your investment

Friday, February 27, 2015
(Sarah Reed/Democrat-News)

With March approaching, planting season is growing nearer every day and soil conservation is taking the lead for crop farmers.

Soil erosion is a major environmental concern in relation to soil conservation, and plays a detrimental role in farming if not handled correctly. According to the USDA's Natural Resource Conservation Service's webpage, "soil erosion is a natural process that occurs when the actions of water and/or wind cause topsoil to be removed and carried elsewhere." This becomes a serious problem for farmland and for water quality concerns.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency's website, "when fertile topsoil is lost,nutrients and organic matter needed by crops often are removed along with it. Erosion tends to remove the less dense soil constituents such as organic matter, clays, and silts, which are often the most fertile part of the soil."

Potential for soil erosion increases if the soil has no or very little vegetative cover such as cover crops. Cover crops protect the soil from water impact due to rain. They tend to slow down the movement of runoff water and allow excess surface water to penetrate soil. The effectiveness of a cover crop depends on the type, amount of coverage and protection availability.

Crops that completely cover the soil and impede on rainfall close to the surface are the most efficient in controlling soil erosion. The success of a cover crop also depends on how much protection is available at various periods during the year, relative to the amount of erosive rainfall that occurs during these periods. Crops that provide a full protective cover for a major portion of the year, such as alfalfa or wheat, can reduce erosion much more than crops that leave the soil bare for a longer period of time.

Terracing is another popular method used in agriculture to avoid soil erosion. This method is often referred to as contouring and is the building of a structure which consists of ridges and channels constructed across a slope.

There are several different methods to terracing, with the most popular being parallel terracing. Terraces reduce both the amount and velocity of water moving across the soil surface, which greatly reduces soil erosion. Although the method provides extensive protection from water damage, it does not fully protect from wind erosion.

Loss in productivity caused by erosion has not been so evident in many parts of the United States in recent years due to improved crop varieties and increased fertilization. Awareness, and influence has been another factor in the reduction of erosion, as several agencies were created in attempt to resolve the problem. The Environmental Protection Agency, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Missouri Department of Conservation, and Department of Natural Resources are a few examples of the organizations which work toward creating a healthy and sustainable environment.

Contact Ashton Clark at aclark@marshallnews.com