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Corn+Soybean Digest

Q&A: What are your most effective soil conservation practices?

Q&A: What are your most effective soil conservation practices?

We asked farmers what their most effective soil conservation practices are. From Iowa to Missouri, their responses included bioreactor water control systems, no-till and cover crops. Read what these farmers had to say, and then comment below with your most effective practices for conserving soil on your farm.

Tim Recker, Arlington, Iowa

As farmers, we all need to find what works within our management practices.

It’s not really new, but I’m working with bioreactor water control systems.

I’ve installed three or four, and I’m seeing more incorporated into tile systems. I think they will be popular because of the way they reduce nitrates coming out of the tile lines.

The control structure holds back the water in a field so it runs through a woodchip bioreactor that captures nitrates.

We’ve tested the water before and after and found a 50% to 85% reduction in nitrates out of our tile lines.

The average price for putting a system in is about $3,000, and they work. What’s unfortunate is that cost-share money is only available through watershed projects or EQIP, so not every farmer can get cost-share funding.


Morris Heitman, Mound City, Mo.

We farm in the Missouri River bottoms and the Loess Hills, so our land is highly erodible and reasonably steep. We try to maintain ground cover on the land practically all the time, and till as little as possible.

When we get a toad-strangler rain, we want those rain droplets to hit crop residue, not a splash of soil.

We’re terraced and tiled, and we’ve been no-till on one farm since 1984. Now we’re experimenting with cover crops.

I don’t have all the answers, but I will tell you that fall tillage of bean stubble is not a good idea, especially on the uplands. It opens a field to heavy erosion. If you run into a rainy spell, you can easily see its non-benefit. I call it “recreational tillage” just to make things look nice. But it costs in fuel and in erosion.


Richard Sloan, Rowley, Iowa

I’m looking at measures that are available and practical to get an “A” in soil conservation, so I’m using no-till on all my land and growing multiple cover crops.

I’ve also got 4½ acres planted with about 28 species of native prairie plants in two 30-foot strips and a 60-foot strip on a contour, and I plant in between, in a corn-corn-soybean rotation.

I seeded the prairie plants in late spring 2012. I’m trying to protect against these big rains, and the prairie plants are deep rooted and the strips are more absorbent and will catch anything coming down the slope. That helps control soil loss.

Hopefully, by next year the prairie plants will be competitive enough to crowd out annual weeds like mare’s tail.

They won’t fit in every situation, but turning over 10% of a field to these strips can control erosion, even in no-till, plus there’s a CRP payment of $200 per acre. 

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