Kansas is no stranger to howling winds, but blowing soil has caused serious problems in northwest Kansas this winter, creating concern for the remainder of the winter and spring, said DeAnn Presley, K-State Research and Extension soil management specialist.
The blowing soil problem this year stems largely from high winds coupled with a lack of residue cover, she said. November through April is the peak time for soil erosion by wind.
Long term, keeping more crop residue on the soil surface or having living vegetation year-round through the use of cover crops, will keep soil in place during conditions such as those experienced recently, Presley said. For now, however, there are some emergency measures producers and landowners can take to try to reduce wind erosion and blowing soil problems this winter and spring.
* Mulching. If wind erosion has already started, it can be reduced by mulching with manure or other anchored plant materials such as straw or hay. To be effective, at least 1.5 to 2 tons per acre of straw or grass or 3 to 4 tons per acre of corn or sorghum stover are needed to control areas of erosion, and the straw or hay must be anchored. Residue can be spread by hand, spreader or other mechanical equipment.
A stubble puncher or disk set straight may be used to anchor residue and prevent it from being blown away. Wet manure application should be 15 to 20 tons per acre and not incorporated into the soil. Care should be taken to not add wheel paths parallel to the wind direction as the mulch is applied. Traffic areas and wheel paths can contribute to wind erosion.
Generally, mulches are practical only for small areas, so mulching is most effective when applied before the soil starts to move. Producers should scout fields to identify areas that might be susceptible to wind erosion (low vegetation cover and a high proportion of erodible-sized clods less than the thickness of a dime) if they plan to use mulch or manure to controls.
* Emergency Tillage. Emergency tillage is a last-resort method that can be effective if done promptly and with the right equipment. The goal of emergency tillage is to make the soil surface rougher by producing resistant clods and surface ridges. A rough surface reduces wind speed. The larger clods and ridges resist movement and provide traps to catch the moving soil particles.
Chisels with single or only a few tool ranks are frequently used to roughen the soil surface. The combination of chisel point size, speed, and depth that produces the roughest surface with the most firm, resistant clods should be used for emergency tillage.
Research has shown that a narrow chisel (2 inches wide) on 24- to 54-inch spacing, operated 3 to 6 inches deep will usually bring enough resistant clods to the surface to control erosion on fine-textured (clay-based) soils. A medium shovel (4 inches wide) can be effective for medium-textured soils (loamy soils). Spacings should typically be narrower where there is no cover and wider in areas of partial cover, such as a growing crop or plant residue.
If erosion conditions recur or persist, a second, deeper chiseling should split the first spacing. Tillage passes should be made perpendicular to the direction of the prevailing wind causing the erosion.
If emergency tillage is to be used in growing crops that are covered by crop insurance, producers should check with their insurance providers regarding emergency tillage insurance rules, Presley said.
Performing emergency, clod-forming tillage across the field is effective in reducing wind erosion, she added.
“The degree of success of emergency tillage depends greatly on climatic, soil, and cover condition. It is often not necessary to till the entire field, but rather, it is very effective to perform emergency tillage passes across 50 percent of the field by tilling a pass, leaving a pass, and repeating. Narrow chisel spacing, 20 to 24 inches, is best for this method,” Presley said.
If 50 percent of the area has been tilled and wind erosion persists, the omitted strips can be emergency-tilled in a second operation to make result in full-cover tillage, she added. If a second tillage pass is needed, it should be at a greater depth than the first pass.
Wide chisel spacings are used in the full-field coverage method, Presley said. The space between chisel grooves can be chiseled later should wind erosion persist.
All tillage operations should be perpendicular or across the direction of the prevailing or eroding wind. For most of Kansas, this means that an east-west direction of tillage is likely best, she said.
The best wind erosion control is created with maximum surface roughness when resistant clods cover a major portion of the surface.
“Research shows that lower travel speeds of 2 to 3 miles per hour generally produce the largest and most resistant clods. However, speeds of 5 to 7 mph produce the greatest roughness. Because clod resistance is usually reduced at higher speeds, the effect may not be as long-lasting as at lower speeds. As a result, higher speeds are recommended where erosion is already in progress, while lower speeds might be a better choice in anticipation of erosion,” Presley explained.
The depth of tillage usually affects clod stability more than travel speed, but optimum depth is highly dependent on soil conditions, such as moisture level, and compaction. Deeper tillage passes can produce more resistant clods than shallow passes, she said.
If the problem is severe and the wheat has already been destroyed or the ground is bare, chisels 4 to 6 inches wide on a 24- to 30-inch spacing will generally provide enough clods to control erosion, Presley said. Operating depth should be 4 to 6 inches in that case.