How Ontario farmers are minimizing erosion on their farms

rill erosion on a steeply sloped field

It’s the time of year when you can see the impact of erosion on farm fields across the province. Whether it’s subtle (Figure 1) or obvious (Figure 2), erosion affects soil by reducing fertility, decreasing organic matter and lowering productivity. With National Soil Conservation Week happening from April 19th to 25th, I wanted to highlight some strategies Ontario farmers are using to battle soil erosion on their farms.

sheet flow of soil into a berm
Figure 1. Sheet erosion isn’t dramatic, but its effects add up over time. Rainfall and surface water move fine-textured soil particles, which accumulate in low parts of the field.

 

rill erosion on a steeply sloped field
Figure 2. Rill erosion on a steeply-sloped field in early May, 2017.

 

Strip-till and erosion control structures: Oxford County

This dairy farmer in Oxford County farms highly erodible silt loam soils. He raises no-till wheat and soybeans, but has found that tillage is necessary for a productive corn crop. He uses spring-only strip-till, sometimes in combination with a winter cereal harvested for green feed (Figure 3). On his soil type, he’s found planting within a day of strip-tilling gives best results.

strip tilling in a field of rye re-growth
Figure 3. Spring strip-till on highly erodible silt loam soil in Oxford County. May 2018.

 

Given his soil and landscape, agronomic practices alone aren’t enough. He has worked with his local conservation authority to install water and sediment control basins (WASCoBs) that help hold up water during heavy rainfall events (Figure 4). Together, these parts of his soil management system help minimize erosion and maintain productivity on his farms.

Drawing of a series of water and sediment control basins, with topographic lines showing slope change
Figure 4. A series of WASCoBs recently installed to help manage surface water runoff.

 

Strategic cover crop seeding following soybeans: Brant County

Protecting soil from the impact of rainfall and runoff is the first step to minimizing water erosion, but it can be difficult after a low-residue crop like soybeans. This Brant County farmer, who doesn’t seed wheat after all his soybean acres, drills a rye cover crop immediately after harvest to help stabilize the soil. He runs the drill twice over low areas where water concentrates to help keep soil in place (Figure 5). Although it doesn’t do a perfect job, when combined with reduced tillage practices, it definitely has a positive impact (Figure 6).

A green cover crop in a highly sloped field. Cover crop is thickest in the lowest parts of the field.
Figure 5. A cereal rye cover crop, seeded twice as thick in parts of the field where water concentrates. May 9, 2018.

 

green cover crop at lowest part of field, with a berm in the background
Figure 6. Rye helps reduce soil loss to water erosion near the outlet (same field as Fig. 5). May 9, 2018.

 

Resources

There are resources to help you address erosion on your farm. Check out our easy-to-read Best Management Practices Series, which include titles such as Erosion by Water, Winter Cover Crops and Wind Strips. For more detailed reading, download OMAFRA’s factsheet: Soil Erosion – Causes and Effects.

If you’re looking for interactive tools, OMAFRA recently released the Water Erosion Potential Map on Ag Maps. It provides a 2-dimensional estimate of water erosion based on soil type, topography and crop and tillage practices. You can find it on the Ag Maps website, under the Markup and Printing tab. Step-by-step instructions can be found in this article by Sebastian Belliard or in this video from OMAFRA’s Water Quality Engineer, Kevin McKague.

Finally, consider cost-share opportunities with Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association or your conservation authority to help you put strategies in place that will help keep your soil where you want it – on your farm.

 

 

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