The spring started out dry with many worries about subsoil moisture levels that didn’t exist. First came the snows in May which we didn’t know whether to complain about or be thankful for the moisture. Then the rains started, allowing for just one or two days a week for planting.
The weather the last Saturday night in May caused the most damage. The clouds moved in the day, by night the incessant lightening made a good sleep difficult. When the rain finally arrived it hit hard and fast. By morning 3.5 inches had fallen.
On the way to church one could see the rain had done some damage. Water had run over the roads, and fields were under water, cornstalks piled where they shouldn’t be and dirt, that precious topsoil deposited in the ditch.
After evening church farmers congregated in the fellowship hall; once the sermon was properly discussed and placed in memory, conversation quickly turned to rain. Any listening ears would have gained a good history lesson on rain events from past decades, as the grayest heads spoke of the 50’s, the not so gray the 70’s and one even spoke of the heavy rains recorded in the history books of this county before any of us were born.
This ‘epic’ rainfall has occurred many times before and will occur again; that is why precautionary measures are taken to build bridges and roads higher, dikes and berms built around streams that flow gently most of the time. After a washout or flooding in town, questions are always raised as to what can be done to prevent this from happening again.
For farmers that equated to questions for those who use minimum or no-till practices, and it was plain to all those Sunday afternoon drivers that those fields showed no washing.
That night another 5.5 inches of rain came down, just as fast. All creeks, tributaries and rivers were out of their banks and by morning, more road damage and sadly, more erosion.
Hills now have trails bringing the topsoil down to become a delta in a low spot, filling a ditch, transforming gravel roads into dirt roads. Ruts and gullies have turned nice fields into a farmer’s nightmare. Last week those were the pretty fields where nice, fine black dirt looked much more tidier than the no-tilled farms. Tiny little corn plants showed up splendidly. Today it is a different story and the damage is long-lasting.
Now as corn begins to tassel the soil damage is still evident; tracks of sprayers dug deep through the loose top soil. Open spaces where corn plants should be growing are bare, or have a plant or two looking out of place and lonely.
Fields are rough looking, and crops have an uneven look.
Land is a valuable commodity and we certainly don’t want it flowing down the river. That top soil cannot be put back. The land is ruined, less productive.
It didn’t have to be. The farmers who use no-till practices saw very little soil movement, and if they did it often occurred because a neighboring farm had a major washout or flooding that overflowed to their farm land.
We farm this land the time we are here on this earth; we really must protect it for future generations. It isn’t so much about the bragging rights that come with how many acres you planted, but rather it what you did with the land when it was in your hands.
There are plenty of reasons to incorporate no till practices into farming operations. For soil conservation, it beats terraces. It works, it saves money and energy; it conserves water and keeps soil where it belongs—in the fields .
The pictures tell a better story than I could ever write. They support the question, “Why NOT no till!”
Essays from My Farm House Kitchen | Renae B. Vander Schaaf
Renae B. Vander Schaaf, freelance writer, lives on a real working farm in northwest Iowa.
To Contact Renae B. Vander Schaaf, please email her at [email protected].