A recent report issued by the Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources at Oklahoma State University (OSU) states that Oklahoma agriculture producers should think long and hard before rushing into their fields to plow up acres where wheat is being abandoned due to drought.

 “We all know wind erosion is a constant concern in Oklahoma,” says Joe Parker, President of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD).  “With the long term projection of below average rainfall in most of central and western Oklahoma, we have to be careful that we do not open ourselves up to the specter of soil loss due to the volatile mixture of high velocity winds and dry soils.”

According to the OSU report, weather conditions this year present circumstances that raise concerns when it comes to wind erosion.  Drought conditions in parts of western and central Oklahoma have caused a potential for tillage to be initiated earlier in the fallow period, following either a failed grain crop or the removal of stocker cattle due to limited forage production. 

May and June are much windier than the regular fallow period between July and October, increasing the danger of excessive wind erosion on acres that have been tilled extensively.  Also, simply increasing the period of time during which the ground is bare greatly increases the likelihood that increased amounts of soil will be lost to the wind.  

In addition, the latest long-range weather outlook for May from the Climate Prediction Center indicates increased chances for above normal temperatures and below normal precipitation in western and central Oklahoma with the latest Seasonal Drought Outlook for May-July 2011 predicting current drought conditions will persist or intensify across the western half of the state.

“Producers need to look at all their options before they tear into their fields this spring and summer,” Parker said.  “Luckily, alternatives can help control weeds while reducing costs and exposure to wind erosion.”

According to Parker, alternatives to traditional cultivation such as no-till and minimum-till are on track to be cheaper alternatives for producers due to the increasing fuel costs.  Studies have shown that no-till crop production requires 3 to 4 gallons of diesel less per acre to produce a crop and while a producer who chooses to utilize herbicide for weed control has to pay for chemicals, this year it appears that the costs of herbicide will be less than the cost of the diesel required to work the ground using traditional tillage. 

In addition, recent studies by Oklahoma State showed that more than 1 inch of water is lost from the surface 15 inches of cultivated soil after the first pass with tillage equipment.  This study also showed that no-till ground held more water after each rain event than conventional tilled ground, increasing the amount of sub-soil moisture available for crop production, moisture that OACD’s Parker said will be critical if the long range drought forecasts are correct.

“Even with the recent rains in northwest and central Oklahoma, we have to be mindful of the long range weather outlook,” Parker said.  “With the possibility of below normal rainfall and above normal temperatures for the next few months, we need to make sure we use every tool at our disposal to minimize sub-soil moisture loss and exposure to wind erosion.  If we can do this in a way that saves us money on diesel costs too, that seems like a good deal to me. 

“The bottom line is that we all need to think before we plow this year and make sure we aren’t opening ourselves up to major soil erosion problems.  We don’t need to re-learn the lessons of the 1930s.”

Producers who would like more information on long term weather conditions and measures to reduce exposure to wind erosion are encouraged to contact their local conservation district office or their local OSU Extension agent.