Two articles from publications in vastly different agricultural regions—Canada and Mississippi—discuss the same issues that we face here, in between these geographical areas. Both articles contain excellent reasons why conservation practices are worth doing no matter where you live.
In the article “Where Water Leaves the Farm,” published in Country Guide (“Canada’s oldest farm publication”), retired farmer Don Lobb offers his point of view on agricultural drainage. This story has a lot of data for the Lake Erie area, but the information on the science of soil health is the same for Iowa—everywhere actually.
“The modern role of subsurface cropland drainage (tile drainage) is much different,” says Lobb. “It’s root-zone soil moisture management. We want a favourable balance of air and water in the root zone, while also maintaining water at the base of the root zone to supply water during dry periods.”
Lobb also gives great reasons how tillage damages soil quality:
“Tilled soils have little or no soil aggregation, and clay soils are almost always compacted,” says Lobb. “With these conditions, subsurface drains can then contribute little to reduce run-off of water sediment and contaminants,” he continues. “When tillage-degraded soil cracks, water easily reaches subsurface drains. This does lead to water degradation in drains and outlet channels, and is really the outcome of bad soil management, not the use of subsurface drains.”
In the article “Improving Water Use Efficiency Starts With Caring for the Soil,” published in Delta Farm Press, the scarcity of water to nourish crops in Mississippi magnifies the issue of water quality.
“Here in the Mississippi Hills we have to make the most of the water we receive as rainfall during the winter months as well as during the growing season. Very few of the farmers in this region have the capability to provide supplemental water to their crops, so our efforts to increase water use efficiency are not optional but necessary.”
Again, healthy soil is of highest importance for success:
“…we have been forced to learn every practice that can allow our soils to store as much water as possible and that will allow our crops to extract and use as much of that stored water as possible. The strategies involved in this program begin with the soil and include the standard practices of soil fertility, such as liming and fertilizing according to current soil tests, and improving the quality of the soil to raise organic matter levels and increase the activity of beneficial soil organisms such as mycorrhizae and earthworms.”
Although they focus on land far from us, there are many points that we can apply to Iowa farmland.