This could be a good year to park the plow, according to an Oklahoma conservation official.
Kim Farber, President of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD), says the persistent drought across Oklahoma and the Southern Plains, should encourage farmers to think long and hard before rushing into their fields to plow up acres where wheat is being abandoned or where farmers are considering growing summer crops.
“We all know wind erosion is a constant concern in Oklahoma,” Farber said. “With the coming summer months being the hottest and typically driest of the year and with the national weather service already issuing blowing dust warnings for areas of the state as far east as Kingfisher and Garfield Counties, we have to be careful that we not open ourselves up to the specter of soil loss and dust storms due to the volatile mixture of high velocity winds and dry soils.”
For more information on drought and other Southwest ag issues, please check out Southwest Farm Press Daily and receive the latest news right to your inbox.
According to Farber, weather conditions this year present circumstances that raise concerns of wind erosion and blowing dust. Drought conditions in parts of western and central Oklahoma, combined with the freeze that struck the Southern Plains in mid-April, has created the potential for many Oklahoma wheat acres to be declared a total failed crop and be “zeroed out” by crop insurance adjusters. Other acres will be harvested, but due to poor growing conditions the harvest will be short.
Many producers will consider planting a summer crop on these acres and may, as part of their production practices, till the soil to prepare for planting, removing residue and exposing soil to the wind, increasing the danger of excessive wind erosion on acres that have been tilled extensively. These conditions, coupled with a prediction of above normal temperatures and below normal precipitation in western and central Oklahoma, can create a recipe for extreme soil loss and blowing dust. Already some cotton farmers in parts of Southwest Oklahoma and West Texas have tilled dry land cotton acres for spring planting, exposing the soil to the wind.
Consider all options
“Producers need to look at all their options before they tear into their fields this spring and summer,” Farber said. “Luckily alternatives can help control weeds while reducing costs and exposure to wind erosion.”
Farber says no-till and minimum-till production offer possibilities. These practices not only save soil, but also may save producers money by reducing fuel costs. Studies have shown that no-till crop production requires 3 to 4 gallons of diesel less per acre to produce a crop. In addition, studies by Oklahoma State University have shown that more than 1 inch of water is lost from the top 15 inches of cultivated soil after the first pass with tillage equipment. These studies also have shown that ground farmed with no-till methods holds more water after each rain event than conventional tilled ground, increasing the amount of sub-soil moisture available for crop production.
Additional research shows that by reducing tillage a producer can help increase organic matter in their soil, and for every 1 percent increase in organic matter, the moisture holding capacity of that soil triples. That equates to additional water for growing crops that Farber said will be critical if the long range drought forecasts are correct.
“We have to be mindful of both the current weather conditions and the long range weather outlook,” Farber said. “With the possibility of below normal rainfall and above normal temperatures for the next few months, we need to use every tool at our disposal to minimize subsoil moisture loss and exposure to wind erosion. If we can do this in a way that saves us money on diesel costs, 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, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Oklahoma Conservation Commission or their local OSU Extension office.