We are finally experiencing a sure sign of spring – south east winds. It might be welcome to many, but it can be a big problem for Central Sands vegetable growers. Wind can move small grains of sand from bare soil. In some places this may not cause problems but it cannot be tolerated in the Central Sands of Wisconsin where farmers spend lifetimes building the soil to the structure and health needed to grow quality vegetables. How can farmers prevent soil erosion?
Protecting soils from wind erosion takes a systems approach. After harvest farmers protect their fields by planting a cover crop. Usually we plant a type of grass or deep-rooted crop so that the field is not left bare and vulnerable to wind. Many times rye is planted because it will germinate in the fall and continue to grow the following spring, extending time to our coverage. In general, the Central Sands landscape is very vulnerable to soil erosion, because the land is flat. Even a small fraction of topsoil lost due to the wind can equate to tons of soil loss if fields are left unprotected. Cover crops serve to hold precious topsoil in place and limit soil loss, but they also do so much more! Cover crops also provide and enhance beneficial organisms in the topsoil by providing stable micro-habitats. They also limit nutrient and water losses on fields by capturing unused nutrients like nitrogen from previous crops, thereby reducing leaching potential. In addition, they build soil health by adding beneficial organic residue and sequestering carbon. Cover crops are not grown to generate a profit but to protect the precious soil resources on the farm. (more…)