Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
Farmers should be aware of a danger that might be lurking in their crop fields this fall-washouts. Most of the washouts produced by the spring storms of 2012 are still there. An especially bad event, often called the "May Day storm" on May 1, 2012, battered the northern third of Stearns County with hail, wind and almost two inches of rain in just a few minutes. At that time, the field conditions were perfect for erosion: newly planted crops on smooth soil which, in many cases, was not protected by crop residue or other conservation practices. Dropping a combine into one of these washouts could cause enough damage to offset any profits received from the $7/bu. corn and $14/bu. soybeans that farmers are striving for.
Now the work begins. After harvest, farmers will need to think about repairing the damage to their land and, hopefully, take steps to avoid a repeat performance in 2013. For landowners who have requested assistance, the SWCD, along with staff from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), will be surveying fields and preparing preliminary plans. Some of the practices to be designed include water and sediment control basins, grassed waterways, and terraces. These practices will stop gully erosion and make the fields farmable again.
However, farmers must be looking at more than just gully control according to Dennis Fuchs, Administrator of the Stearns County SWCD. "Overall soil health should be a primary concern," said Fuchs. "The soil must be able to absorb and store the rainfall instead of letting it run off the field." These soil qualities not only protect the soil from erosion, but they also protect the farmer's bottom line: profitability. "Farmers need to be looking at mulch till and no-till, cover crops, and getting a perennial crop in a rotation if they want to sustain crop yields and keep costs down," he explained. "These practices put moisture in the root zone, increase nutrient availability, and improve tilth or workability". The soil tilth issue is going to be big this fall Dennis observed. "Some farmers will be anxious to get the soil tilled to let the weather break up the hard clods before next spring," he said. "This will create some devastating wind erosion problems if the soil stays dry and there is no crop residue to protect it."
The Stearns County SWCD and NRCS work closely with producers to formulate resource protection and enhancement options that fit their operation. The final decisions are made by the landowner or producer. These decisions are packaged into a personalized Conservation Plan for their land. Technical and financial assistance is also available from State and Federal sources for installation of these practices. Constructed practices are often reimbursed at
75 percent of the average cost. Many management practices, such as no-till, are eligible for incentive payments.
The USDA and SWCD are equal opportunity providers and employers. All programs and services are available without regard to race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, and marital or familial status.
Landowners are urged to contact the Stearns County SWCD at (320) 251-7800, extension 3, for more information or to set up a planning appointment. Additional information can also be found on the SWCD website at www.