“We’ve been having significant rain events the last couple of years. 2 inches, 3 inches, 5 inches at a time. And I’m just curious, what can I do in my soil health program to ensure that the soil keeps as much rainfall as possible? I hate to see soil leaving my fields after working so hard in no till and cover crops to keep it in place.” - Bill Spiegel, Kansas Farmer and Successful Farming Magazine Editor
Dr. Aaron Daigh is an Associate Professor of Soil Physics and Hydrology at North Dakota State University in the Soil Science Department. His focus is studying how things move in the ground including water, chemicals, heat and the soil itself.
“When you get very heavy rainfall…..you can count on no matter what you’re doing out in the field that some portion of that is going to go to runoff because most soils just simply cannot take in that much water in that short of a period.” - Dr. Aaron Daigh
The water that is absorbed by the soil then adds value based on where it is stored. If it is stored shallow, in the first 6 inches, you can run into issues with “root rot, fungal diseases, wilting and drowning of that crop. “The portion of the water that goes deeper into the soil profile is ideal because you put water to where it can be stored for later for that crop when it’s needed.” Another added benefit to having water infiltrate deeper in the soil profile is keeping the soil stronger which will reduce future erosion and support equipment during harvest. Dr. Daigh suggests farmers make every attempt to not disrupt the soil anymore than necessary in order to increase its strength and contribute to water infiltration.
“Reducing the amount of disturbance that you have to that soil through aggressive tillage practices, helps get more water down these big macro pores that move water down deeper into the soil profile to be stored and prevent abundance of runoff and water erosion.” Dr. Aaron Daigh
Cover crops will also reduce disruption of soil by major rainfall which can be substantial. “The higher the residue rate, the slower that water’s going to move across and have a chance to infiltrate down into the soil and prevent what is running off from picking up speed as it goes down the landscape.”
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