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Serving: IN

Too Dry Is a Relative Term

Too Dry Is a Relative Term
Hung-up after an inch in three months?

What's worse than having to get on your radio or cell phone and call someone from the farm to come pull you out of a wet spot? Having to do it when it hasn't rained more than an inch in three months, and most soils are as dry as a bone!

This happened to not one, but two, Indiana farmers this week who were mowing weeds in a field that has a perennial wet spot. It's the type of wet spot that's never been tiled. Perhaps once farmed, it's natural state was probably a wetlands. Under the Swampbuster rules of the late 1980's USDA farm bills, soil conservation officials might be looking up the definition of  'farmed wetlands' to see if it applies here. That term was so hard to interpret and apply that it took and still takes a trained soil conservation person to figure it out. The swampbuster rules and regulations are still on the books.

Gary Steinhardt, Purdue University soils expert, explains that many of these pockets may have formed in different ways. Since the one that sucked in these farmers and required them to get assistance is located between two major waterways, it may have formed as an old lakebed. Thousands of years ago the area was covered by water, literally a lake.

Steinhardt is in Knox County this week, preparing practice and contest holes of the annual Indiana State Soil Judging finals for e-H and FFA members. Last year the competition was held in Elkhart County.

The soil the farmers found themselves mired in would be called lacusterine, which basically means it was formed from water-deposited material thousands of years ago. That's what is known as the parent material. The wettest area in their field consists of clay soil on the bottom;. That's not very conducive to getting traction.

As long as it does not violate rules of a government program, ie the area is not a true wetlands, lacusterine areas can be productive when drained. Soil judgers are taught to recommend tile drainage on these poorly drained areas if they are in cropland. However, if it a naturally vegetated area, meaning it is no longer farmed, they are instructed to recommend preserving the area as a wetland.

Meanwhile, many other soils remain bone dry around Indiana. But if someone offers you a bet and the question is: Can you get hung up in the middle of a drought? Now you know how to answer.

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