“Out of the long list of nature’s gifts to man, none is perhaps so utterly essential to human life as soil‘ Hugh Hammond Bennett a former director of the Soil Erosion Service. Soil erosion is typically caused by a force acting on the particles of the soil's upper layer and transporting those particles to an alternative location, such as a nearby field edge or ditch. Soil erosion is the removal of material from the upper part or layer of the soil. The two greatest causes of erosion on most lands are from wind and water. Wind and water erosion have the potential of removing the upper layer of the soil that has the most organic matter and nutrients essential for plant uptake and growth. In some cases, this erosion can occur slowly and may not be as visible to the observer. Soils with no surface protection during intense rain or wind events have the potential of losing the top layer very rapidly. Understanding how these forces cause erosion to our soil's upper layer gives a better understanding of how soils are impacted.


Water Erosion

Water erosion happens when rainwater droplets fall onto the exposed soil's uppermost layer. This breaks up soil particles making the particles smaller and more likely to be transported by the water flowing to lower areas of the field. Water erosion losses up to 10 tons per acre can be invisible during a field observation.


Wind Erosion

Wind erosion sometimes can cause a dust cloud or whirl in an open farm field. Although it is easy to see dust clouds, sometimes wind erosion happens on a smaller scale close to the ground, moving small particles only a few feet. Wind erosion can reduce organic matter in the soil and damage crops with the wind-blown soil particles. One type of crop that is sensitive to the movement of wind-blown soil particles is asparagus. Improving the soil's ability to grow crops and keeping residue on the soil helps eliminate the potential for organic matter soil loss and crop damage. However, wind erosion causes greater nutrient loss in its erosion properties than water-induced erosion.


Implementing Conservation Practices to Reduce Soil Erosion

Cover crops are effective at reducing water and wind erosion in high wind and heavy rainfall events. Cover crops improve the soil's structure and therefore soil erosion and water availability benefit from the cover crops. Cover crops are planted in open areas to serve as armor for our soils from hard rains, strong winds and blistering sun. Most fields consist of one of the two types of armor called active or passive armor. Fields may already have some passive armor called crop residue that remains from the previously harvested crop. Another form of armor for our soil is active soil armor. The active armor or growing cover crops provides food sources for soil biological organisms, wildlife (deer) and protects our fields and gardens from extreme weather. Another conservation practice option for landowners is establishing buffers to improve water quality. Planted grasses and other vegetation slow runoff water and allow sediments to settle. Because the buffer is typically between a water body and the farm field, the farming operations take place a greater distance away from the water body.

The United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS) has additional conservation practices and technical assistance to assist landowners with erosion concerns. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provides individuals engaged in livestock, crop of forest production opportunities to address resource concerns. EQIP applications can be accepted anytime although submission deadlines are set annually. For additional information, please contact your local USDA NRCS field office. Jeff Fewless is the USDA-NRCS Acting District Conservationist working with the Osceola-Lake Conservation District. You can reach him at 231-465-8011 or email jeff.fewless@usda.gov.

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