Farms.com Home   News

Grassed Waterways Can Help maintain Soil Quality And Productivity

By Mike Staton, Michigan State University Extension

Producers are looking for ways to improve the quality and productivity of their soils. While this is important, keeping the existing soil quality and productivity from degrading due to soil erosion is just as important. This is especially true given the frequent and intense rain events we’ve experienced in recent years.

Well designed and maintained grassed waterways can be an important tool for maintaining soil quality and productivity. The field shown in Photos 1 and 2 is an excellent example. Photo 1 was taken after a heavy rain event in June of 2010. The producer responded to this situation by establishing the grassed waterway shown in Photo 2.

Soil erosion

Photo 1: Severe soil erosion and sediment deposition (2010).

Grassed waterway

Photo 2: Successfully established and maintained grassed waterway (2015).

There are two main complaints I hear about grassed waterways:

  • They are difficult to establish (Photo 3) and
  • Over time, the water runs around waterways instead of through them (Photo 4).

Both of these challenges can be overcome.

Seeded waterway

Photo 3: Newly seeded waterway washed out by spring and summer rain events (2015).

Soil erosion

Photo 4: Water flowing around an established waterway due to sediment accumulation (2010).

Michigan State University Extension advises that the best time to establish waterways is following wheat harvest. The wheat stubble stabilizes the surrounding soil and the grass will have good conditions for germination and adequate time to become established beforethe fall rains. The waterway shown in Photo 3 was established this spring and was washed out by one or more intense rainfall events. Straw bales were placed across the waterway to prevent this. However, they did not work in this situation and are not recommended.

There are two reasons why water runs around waterways rather than through them. First, sediment builds up in the waterway to the point that the waterway becomes higher than the surrounding soil (Photo 4). Proper design will eliminate this problem. Tillage and planting operations performed parallel to the waterways rather than perpendicular to them can also cause water to flow around waterways. All tillage and planting operations should be directed into grassed waterways and never around them.
General recommendations for establishing grassed waterways include:

  • Locate grassed waterways in areas of concentrated water flow.
  • Establish grassed waterways after wheat harvest.
  • Select a mixture of sod-forming grasses such as creeping red fescue, tall fescue, Kentucky blue grass, smooth brome and perennial ryegrass.
  • Make the cross section of the waterway either trapezoidal or parabolic, and never V-shaped.
  • Be sure waterways are at least 0.8 of a foot deep and the slope of the sidewalls should never be steeper than 1 foot of rise for every 3 feet of run.
  • Never install rocks, straw bales etc. that extend above the floor of the waterway.   

The USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) is the best source of information regarding soil conservation practices including grassed waterways. In some situations, cost share funds and site-specific assistance will be provided to producers. However, due to existing workloads, there may be a waiting period for cost-shared waterways to be designed and installed. The NRCS has online resources available at www.mi.nrcs.usda.gov for producers who want to install waterways on their own. The following NRCS resources are recommended:

 

  • NRCS Technical Guide: Grassed Waterways 412
  • NRCS Technical Guide: Critical Area Planting 342
  • Grassed Water way Cross Sections

These materials cover waterway design, grass species selection and waterway maintenance. Producers should review these materials and contact their local NRCS office for a brief consultation before installing a grassed waterway.

Source:msu.edu


Trending Video

How a Desire to Lead Brought This Wheat Breeder to Canada

Video: How a Desire to Lead Brought This Wheat Breeder to Canada

Gurcharn Singh Brar is a wheat breeder whose path meandered from the breadbaskets of Punjab, India, to the sprawling fields of the Prairies. In a candid conversation, Brar shared insights into his journey, the challenges faced, and the undying passion that fuels his quest for better crops.

It all began with a childhood rooted in the wheat fields of Punjab, where agriculture isn’t just a livelihood but a way of life. His fascination with wheat and its potential led him to pursue a bachelor’s degree in agricultural sciences at Punjab Agricultural University. It was during this time that he encountered the spectre of rust diseases, particularly stripe rust, which plagued the region’s wheat crops. Determined to combat this menace, he set his sights on a journey that would take him across continents.

Venturing abroad for his graduate studies, he found himself in Saskatchewan at the Crop Development Centre (CDC), working under the mentorship of renowned researchers like Randy Kutcher and Pierre Hucl. Here, he delved deep into the world of wheat genetics, focusing on stripe rust resistance — a quest that would shape his academic pursuits for years to come.

After completing his master’s and Ph.D. in six and a half years, he embarked on a professional journey that would see him traverse academia and research. From brief stints as a research officer to landing his dream faculty position at the University of British Columbia’s Plant Science program, his career trajectory was marked by a strong drive to make a difference in the world of wheat.

Despite the allure of British Columbia’s unique agricultural landscape, he found himself wanting to return to the vast expanses of the Prairies, where wheat reigns supreme. He recently returned to the Prairies and is the new wheat breeder at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.

“The opportunity to lead an established wheat breeding program at the University of Alberta was a dream come true. With the necessary resources and infrastructure in place, I’m excited to drive innovation and develop high-yielding wheat varieties tailored to the unique conditions of northern Canada,” he says.

Brar, one of Seed World Canada‘s 2024 Next-Gen Leaders, has become known for identifying novel sources of resistance to priority diseases and his efforts in developing wheat germplasm with multiple disease-resistant traits.

In addition to his groundbreaking research, Brar is committed to mentoring the next generation of agricultural scientists.

“I believe in nurturing talent and empowering students to pursue their passions,” he says. “Watching my students grow and thrive in their research endeavours is hugely rewarding.”

As he looks ahead, Brar’s vision for the future of wheat breeding is clear: “My number one target is to develop high-yielding wheat varieties adapted to the northern climates of Canada. By focusing on early maturity and strong straw traits, we can maximize yield potential while ensuring resilience to environmental challenges.”

His decision to also join the Prairie Recommending Committee for Wheat, Rye, and Triticale (PGDC) executive as member-at-large came from a desire to play an even more important role in the world of Canadian cereals.