Wet conditions cause damage to vital land
A very wet fall and winter has resulted in many damaged areas in crop fields and pastures around the Ozarks.
Driving vehicles and farm machinery and running livestock over saturated soils left many producers with problematic ruts, ditches, mud holes and other issues to deal with as the soil dries. Fortunately, there are steps than can be taken to repair the damage and restore productive crop and pasture areas.
Many damaged sections of cropland and pasture will likely need some form of mechanical repair, Drexel Atkisson, area soil health specialist for USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, explained.
In order to be mindful of the land during the repair process on crop fields, he advised producers to choose a tillage tool that does the least amount of inverting of the soil as possible.
The less traffic on the damaged area during repair the better. Making each trip as efficient as possible will help prevent further damage. It is also important that producers wait until the field is dry before beginning the repair process.
“Working wet fields will only add insult to injury by making compaction of the soil worse,” Atkisson said. “It may be possible to only work on the area in the field with the ruts, but consideration needs to be given to how planting equipment will perform.”
He went on to explain with parts of the field having tillage and perhaps the rest without any tillage, the planter may need adjusted between one area and the other.
Utilizing local NRCS offices to discuss the need for unscheduled or unplanned tillage with a planner can help producers with documentation and keeping their conservation plans up to date.
Producers may need to repair pastures too.
“Many pastures have had excessive traffic by livestock and feeding equipment that has caused trampling and ruts. These areas may require a mechanical device as well to get fixed,” Atkisson said.
He suggested a roller or tractor-mounted blade as potentially effective equipment. A cultivator is another option if a more aggressive piece of machinery is needed, as is a disc if rocks are problematic in the area.
Planting forages in damaged pastures plays a large role in helping them mend and return to a healthy production status.
“Getting plants growing on these areas is crucial,” Atkisson said. “Plant roots heal compaction and hold the soil in place. Annually planted forages will be the fastest to take root and begin the healing process. Cool season annuals such as cereal grains or annual rye grass can be planted early spring (through the month of May). If it is later (June) then we would look to summer annuals such as Sudangrass or the millets to do the job. As soon as possible, plant the perennial forages of like kind that is present in the field.”
In order to lessen the damage in affected cropland areas, repairs and field work should, again, be postponed until the soil is dry for the most successful results.
For pastures, Atkisson advised it is best not to damage more and more area. This just expands the impacted area and increases the expense of repair. Sacrificing the smallest area possible is the best way to lessen the damage.
If the area is more of a “field road,” Atkisson suggested the area might need some gravel or stone added. He recommended that producers visit their local NRCS office to learn more about heavy use area protection.
When producers reseed their repaired pastures, it can be prudent to consider planting forage that will hold up to high traffic.
“Tall Fescue is the most common grass in our pastures and does a good job of handling traffic. Kentucky Bluegrass and Perennial Rye Grass are also cool-season grasses that tolerate high traffic. For a summer growing grass, Bermudagrass is a warm season perennial grass that tolerates heavy traffic as well,” Atkisson said.
Mid-May to June 15 would be optimum for establishing warm season grasses, he went on to say, and Aug. 15 to September 15 is the best time to plant cool season grasses.
“I would not be afraid to throw a little seed whenever the area gets smoothed up. It may not all grow or survive but most likely some will,” Atkisson said. “Then when the time is right it can be reseeded again.”
Working with a conservation planner at the local NRCS office can help producers choose the best forage option for their land, as well as helping with identifying appropriate sacrifice areas that are better suited to heavy traffic based on soil type for future wet weather issues.