Published Dec 22, 2015

10 days later: What not to give away this holiday season: the soil.

By Sarah Carlson

Here is an updated picture of what the jars of water and sediment looked like 10 days after sitting on Gary’s window sill with no agitation. Its a rough life for aquatic life under these conditions. image (1)

During the holiday season we all try to be a little bit more charitable. But should we be so generous with our farmland that we just give it away? What do I mean by giving the farm away? I mean soil, the foundation of agriculture and Iowa’s economy, is eroded from one farm to another with every rainfall. It washes to another farm, stream or pond, or subdivision. Are we just generous people or do we not realize it’s happening?

Gary Guthrie from the Nevada area sent me this picture of running water he collected 10 days ago. This picture shows us the value of conservation practices we all know should be used: continuous living cover, reduced tillage in a short rotation, establishment of in-field permanent practices and a laundry list of others.  

Gary reports, “The bottles in the picture shown here were all taken at the end of fields in the waterway, before they entered another field and waterway. All of this water eventually dumps into the Skunk River after about 1-2 miles.”

“The lightest bottle (left) is water from the end of a re-constructed waterway and prairie strip, though not well established. The upper half of the field had corn in 2015 and then a cereal rye cover crop was established. This field has not been tilled.”

“The middle bottle is water taken from a wider than average waterway, since most of the water is surface drainage from my neighbors’ fields. That field was in soybeans in 2015 and not tilled yet this fall. That farm also has a few small terraces on the field but not much in the way of constructed waterways.”

“The last bottle (right) is water draining the large field north of our house. It was planted to corn in 2014 and 2015. It was harvested for stover to feed the new cellulosic ethanol plant both years and then deeply tilled. There is hardly any plant material left on the soil surface of that field and it now looks like a river.”

These fields are geographically close to each other, but experience very different management. Unfortunately, too many farmers are carelessly generous, giving away the farm this holiday season. Next season let’s be less generous with our soil giveaway and work to have our fields perform like the first bottle.