Spring is often the time when soil loss can be identified in fields, and farmers can plan erosion control strategies
By Jackie Clark
As growing season activities begin and spring rain is falling on Ontario farms, farmers have an opportunity to assess their fields for evidence of erosion and make plans to remediate and prevent future soil loss.
“One of the ways at this time of year to identify areas that have been impacted by erosion within a field is looking at the winter cereal crop,” Jake Munroe, field crop soil management specialist for OMAFRA, told Farms.com.
Producers can do this by “looking at the uniformity over that field, and in particular getting out and walking that field and taking some observations as to where the stand is thick and lush and where it’s thin and shorter,” he said. “The impact of erosion is usually pretty obvious this time of year,” with stunted growth and thinner stands, especially where rolling topography has contributed to soil loss.
In some cases, rill erosion leaves obvious channels in the soil, however, in the case of sheet erosion, where finer textured particles move over the surface in a sheet, the visual signs are more subtle, Munroe explained.
Sheet erosion “doesn’t result in obvious rills” so farmers can try “looking at the low spots in the field” to identify where the texture may be different and indicate that finer particles have been deposited there.
Managing erosion is a long-term process.
“In some cases, there’s been a lot of movement over time,” Munroe said. “It didn’t happen overnight, so it’s not going to be solved overnight.”
The ideal management strategy will depend on the specific context of the field, including soil type, topography, and weather.
In some situations, farmers can mitigate erosion with agronomic practices, like reducing tillage, maintaining residue coverage, or planting cover crops, Munroe explained.
Other fields may require more intensive interventions, like structural erosion control, he added.
There are some practices that farmers may be able to implement immediately.
“In terms of managing a field that’s quite variable due to erosion or has some serious impacts from erosion over the years, there are a couple of strategies that different growers across the province are utilizing,” Munroe said. “One would be remediation of knolls and sidehills by soil moving.”
Some producers use large equipment “to move topsoil from low slope positions up to the eroded parts of the field,” he explained. This practice should be followed up with agronomic interventions that will help the soil stay in place for a long-term solution.
For producers with access to manure or compost “putting some higher rates on those eroded areas to help build them up over time, that’s another unique approach that some growers use,” Munroe said.
OMAFRA offers resources and case studies to help farmers better understand erosion in their fields, and which remediation strategies are best suited for their situations.
Farmers should explore cost-sharing opportunities through organizations like the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association, or consider “working with your local conservation authority, reaching out to them to see if there’s funding available,” Munroe said.
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