I have read and heard that droughts often end in floods. There have been several examples of this statement in the past year as several areas have received more moisture in a few days than they had previously witnessed in twelve months. I recently made the statement that if we fail to catch water where it falls we lose it. Actually we lose the opportunity for the positive and are often left with the negative effects of a broken water cycle. They include:
• lack of deep moisture in the soil
• Underground aquafers that are under charged
• Gullies and loss of topsoil
• Loss of topsoil health
• Dead plants from standing water
• Weed out breaks
• Animal drownings
• Property loss
• Inability to grow quality forage
• Crop loss
• Uncontrolled producer stress
Historically our answer to Nature’s highs and lows (drought and floods) has been reactionary. I am talking about the adaption of planning and working successfully with the Natural Model. Holistic management offers long term answers for agriculture. The more we study, pay attention, plan, learn, and successfully execute, the more we can succeed.
Most of North America’s water cycle operation is fractured to the point that I doubt if most of us producers have ever seen or are able to totally recognize or imagine a highly functional water cycle. We do routinely see the brokenness of the system when nature stresses lands with lots of rain or lots of dry. A highly functional water cycle can successfully handle the highs, lows, and severe servings of the weather we receive.
Some of my requirements of a highly functional water cycle include:
• Complete ground surface cover (bare ground is enemy #1)
• Deep rooted plants that are mostly perennials
• Highly diverse plant populations that include short, medium, and tall forages without reliance on water loving plants
• Thick litter at ground level
• Huge amounts of live soil biology and the pores that abundant soil life provides
• Large amounts of organic matter and tilth (the sponge). Soil will hold at least 25,000 gallons of water for each 1% of organic matter
• Burrowing activity of macrobes (earthworms, grubs, field mice, voles, and moles provide free subsoiling. Predators behind the grazing keep them in control).
• Chipping of the soil and litter contact to the ground surface by timed high animal impact. The health of the system requires grazing ruminants
• Lack of soil compaction. Compaction is a result of time exposure
Removal of mechanical tillage. Tillage throws some biology into overdrive while killing other biology. High speeds kill.
• Goodly numbers of new seedlings. An old community is a digressing community
• Increased soil and plant energy as the result of timed grazing
We never and will not witness a completely functional water cycle without the presence of cattle that have been grazed in timed high densities for short periods followed by complete plant recovery.
Remember that rain falls at 25-30 mph. A functional water cycle drastically breaks the fall and then filters the droplets of moisture to ground level where they are intercepted by litter before being absorbed by the sponge of organic matter and slowly leach down into the depths of the soil. Abundant air spaces and roots are filled to capacity before snail paced downhill movement takes place.
In May 2010, I watched it rain straight down in torrents to the tune of 9” in three or four major hard events over a 36 hour period. The growing season had been in full swing for several weeks.
A house floated down the middle of I-24 fifty miles south of my headquarters. The Opryland Hotel in Nashville was flooded two stories high. Our grass canopy, litter, and organic matter (only 4-6 inches in depth) held the vast majority of the water. We had hillside ponds that did not completely fill with a little tinge of color for thirty plus hours after the rain slowed and stopped. This was 30 months after introducing planned high density grazing followed by complete recovery.
We still do not have a completely functioning water cycle on our 100% clay soil ranch but it is now headed in the right direction. Think about it.