Retaining Moisture in Sandy Soil

Many producers have converted to no-till, and now progressive farmers are learning to cover crop to keep soil covered after harvesting a cash crop. Ryan Speer is such a producer. He farms in central Kansas along the Arkansas River south of Halstead. He grows corn, soybeans, wheat and milo, in sandy soil poor at retaining moisture. Ryan started cover-cropping in 2007. By improving the biological material in his soil, more moisture is being stored from precipitation events.

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Producer Finds Cover Crops Provide Forage and Improve Soil

The Thompson Farm and Ranch straddles the Kansas-Nebraska line. Drought in this region is entering its fourth year. The Thompson family uses no-till practices to grow dryland wheat and corn and also run cows. They went no-till in 2000 and several years ago started using cover crops, instead of continuing to leave a field fallow. The first cover crop surpassed their expectations — providing forage for cattle and improving the soil.

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Choosing the Right Cover Crop

Improving the health and quality of the soil can increase crop productivity, hence profitability, while benefitting wildlife and improving the environment. Planting cover crops — ground cover often consisting of a variety of plants — following harvest of the cash-crop, creates a forage base that can be utilized by the producer while increasing organic matter, soil nutrients and water infiltration.

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Soil Health Practices Benefit Playas

Buffered playa in Nebraska

Playa wetlands benefit from practices that result in good soil health. The Natural Resources Conservation Service says there are four principles to improving soil health: 1) keep soil covered as much as possible; 2) disturb the soil as little as possible; 3) keep plants growing throughout the year to feed the soil; and 4) diversify as much as possible using crop rotation and cover crops.

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Improving Water Filtration through No-till and Cover Crops

Scott Gonnerman started no-till practices in 2005 and began cover-cropping his east Nebraska fields in 2009. He says he used to think of the soil simply as dirt. But he’s seen with his own eyes how infiltration has improved in step with a healthier ecosystem immediately below the soil surface.

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Preventing Another Dust Bowl

No event did more to emphasize the severity of the erosion crisis than the Dust Bowl affecting High Plains states beginning in the early-1930s. Maintaining healthy soils is one way to prevent a similar disaster. We consider modern practices that build healthy soil.

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Nebraska Farmer Learns New Tricks With Cover Cropping

Nebraska farmer Bill Volkmer describes himself as an “old farmer.” But this old farmer is willing to learn some new tricks. He started planting cover crops in 2011. Cover-cropping — the practice of keeping fields covered between cash-crops — leads to a healthier, more bio-diverse soil and better crop productivity, which directly helps the bottom line. By selecting specific plants, from amongst the broadleafs, the grasses and the legumes, producers can improve their soils. By keeping soil covered, there’s less evaporation, and when it’s windy, there’s less loss of topsoil.

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Producer Group Uses Soil Practices to Preserve Moisture

Western Kansas is a semi-arid region, with yearly precipitation at 17-19 inches. Progressive farmers understand their biggest challenge is capturing and holding every drop of moisture they can. A group of Northwest Kansas producers meets regularly to discuss production practices. These growers are firm believers in no-till and planting cover crops whenever it’s feasible. While some producers say cover crops unnecessarily sap moisture, members of Living Acres Network are more likely to say that the careful selection of a cover crop leaves residue that helps build the soil for better precipitation infiltration.

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Converting to Dryland Farming

Southwest Kansas farmer Steve Arnold had been a big irrigator with ten wells, numerous pivot irrigation systems and four-wheel-drive tractors. Then, his wells ran dry. The Ogallala Aquifer failed him. Arnold converted to dryland farming, adopted precision farming equipment and practices, and is using no-till and cover cropping.

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No-till and Cover Crops Help Rainwater Basins

South-central Nebraska producer John Kinley has a three-acre rainwater basin in a crop field. He uses progressive practices such as no-till production and cover cropping. Even though he farms through his wetland, no-till leaves the rainwater basin with cover year-round, and it now attracts ducks and geese as they migrate.

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