When big rains fell this spring and summer, Mother Nature proved just how powerful she can be. Beating rains and flash floods created soil erosion anywhere where soils were bare and vulnerable to the forces of nature. Those who believe soil conservation is the answer to helping soften nature’s blow soon noticed a difference between water coming off tilled fields and water coming off no-till and cover crop fields. Many took the opportunity to grab their cameras and document the difference.
Chris Lee, conservation delivery team leader for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Gibson County, headed into the country with his camera after a 4-inch rainstorm hit the area near the end of June. It didn’t take him long to find what he was looking for: vivid examples of differences in tilled vs. no-tilled fields.
First, he stopped at a site where a drop structure helps slow water and ‘drop’ it to the next level. This structure was at the edge of a conventionally tilled cornfield, draining surface water running off the field. The water coming off the field was brown, and the water exiting the drop structure was brown, full of soil particles.
Next, he stopped by a similar drop structure on a different farm. It was at the edge of a field of soybeans no-tilled into cornstalks where a cereal rye cover crop was used.
“Although such an intense rainfall event resulted in runoff in both systems, what we can’t see is how much more water infiltrated into the [field] using cover crops and no-till,” Lee says. “We also can’t see what nutrients and other inputs may have been attached to the sediment coming off of the conventionally tilled ground.”
What you could see, he concludes, was a striking difference in the amount of sediment in the water coming from each field. The photos below truly tell the story.
On the left, the water coming out of the cornfield that was tilled before planting is brown because the water is full of soil particles and sediment. On the right, the clean water coming off this no-till soybean field following corn and a cereal rye cover crop is in stark contrast to the water coming over structure from the tilled cornfield. Move the bar in the center to the left and right to get the full effect.