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Soil erosion always a threatSoil erosion always a threat

An old-fashioned demonstration shows the power of soil erosion.

Tom J. Bechman

October 11, 2023

2 Min Read
A man pointing towards a rainwater demonstration showing cover crops vs. bare soil
MAKING IT RAIN: Soil conservation consultant Hans Kok (left) points out that the same amount of water is falling on both sides in this test, but where there is cover, no water is running off. Photos by Tom J. Bechman

You may have seen a rain simulator before. Soil scientists have used these devices both to demonstrate the power of falling raindrops in creating soil erosion, and to do actual research to determine how much soil washes away during a big rain event.

Roger Wenning, Greensburg, Ind., knows that whatever the amount, it’s more soil than he wants to wash away on his farm. He and his son, Nick, no-till and use cover crops extensively to prevent as much soil erosion as possible. They also have a farm drainage and excavation business, and they install drainage and waterways as needed to augment no-till and cover crops in protecting their soil resources.

When he prepared for his annual field day this summer, Wenning wanted to remind people just how powerful soil erosion can be. He asked Hans Kok, a soil conservation consultant, to help set up a rain simulator in his plots, and to explain why it performed as it did.

Simple demonstration

There was nothing fancy about this rain simulator. It consisted of some pipe, garden hose and a couple of spray nozzles. Wenning positioned it on a gentle slope, similar to slopes commonly seen in many Indiana crop fields. Because it was a no-till field, he scraped residue off one side to represent a tilled field left bare. Then he left residue on the other side to represent a no-till field, or a field with cover crops over winter.

Well before the field day began, he turned on the faucet and let the mock rainstorm happen. Runoff from each side collected in 1-gallon glass jars positioned so water could easily run into them.

rainwater simulator

The difference was nothing less than striking, Wenning says. The jar catching water from the bare side filled quickly with brownish water. Allowed to sit after the “rainstorm” ended, soil particles began accumulating in the bottom of the jar.

Meanwhile, very little water ran off the side where the existing cover was not disturbed, although the same amount of water was applied. Instead of running off, water infiltrated into the soil, Kok explains. Cover is extremely beneficial in helping move water into the soil rather than allowing it to run off, he adds.

Soil erosion can still be a huge problem if soils are left bare, Wenning concludes. He hopes his rain simulator demonstration reminds people to keep soils covered.

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No till

About the Author(s)

Tom J. Bechman

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farmer, Farm Progress

Tom J. Bechman is editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer. He joined Farm Progress in 1981 as a field editor, first writing stories to help farmers adjust to a difficult harvest after a tough weather year. His goal today is the same — writing stories that help farmers adjust to a changing environment in a profitable manner.

Bechman knows about Indiana agriculture because he grew up on a small dairy farm and worked with young farmers as a vocational agriculture teacher and FFA advisor before joining Farm Progress. He works closely with Purdue University specialists, Indiana Farm Bureau and commodity groups to cover cutting-edge issues affecting farmers. He specializes in writing crop stories with a focus on obtaining the highest and most economical yields possible.

Tom and his wife, Carla, have four children: Allison, Ashley, Daniel and Kayla, plus eight grandchildren. They raise produce for the food pantry and house 4-H animals for the grandkids on their small acreage near Franklin, Ind.

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