Stop Moving Soil

by Anne Verhallen, Soil Management Specialist, OMAFRA – Ridgetown

The early spring weather and dry soil conditions have tempted a number of people into early tillage with predictable results – wind erosion!  The best way to prevent wind erosion is to keep soil covered; at least for as long as possible.  Weather records tell us that the chance of a wind erosion event drops dramatically as the calendar moves into late May and early June – but April and early May are windy almost guaranteed.

Good Options

  • Cover the soil – A variety of materials can be used to cover the soil, old hay, straw, even corn cobs. About 30% cover is needed to prevent wind erosion. Western research suggests that 900-1100 kg/ha of crop residues if anchored ie corn stalks or undisturbed grains can stop soil from moving. However, for problem areas where soil has been moving expect to double the amount of residue. Larger or coarse residue works best. Anchoring the residue with a light straight disking will help to keep applied residue in place and keep the neighbours happier. Manure is another option. US research suggests 13 to 18 mt/ha of solid manure will help to hold soil from moving and without a need for anchoring. Even a smaller amount of strawy manure applied to the most wind erosion prone knolls will help to hold moisture and reduce soil movement. However food safety and harvest dates must be considered when looking at manure as an option for wind erosion control.
  • Plant a cover cropGot a bit of time before crops go into that field? Plant a spring cereal now. Barley is usually the seed of choice based on the early growth habit but oats will do. The goal is cover for now and a bit of roots to bind the soil until the crops canopy out. Seed heavy to get a fast cover. Consider herbicide options, though, before planting.
  • Create a barrier – Snowfence, straw bales and wagons have been used to create a wind barrier but it’s costly in labour. Target the worst areas. Also a caution – the wind will jet under wagons and scour the nearby soil.

Emergency Options

  • Tillage – can help to roughen the surface and bring moist, stable soil to the surface BUT this only works for a very short time, after that you just have more loose, dry soil open to the wind.
  • Irrigation – Overhead irrigation has only limited use in wind erosion prevention. The soil must be fully wetted well ahead of the wind event. This technique will only last for a very short windstorm.

The best plan for wind erosion is to have a plan – keep the soil covered for as long as possible, or create permanent wind protection with trees or annual grass strips.