Fall harvest is an excellent time to scout fields for places where conservation practices could be put to use, says Dave Shelton, University of Nebraska-Lincoln agricultural engineer in Concord. Planning for grassed waterways, filter strips, field borders, windbreaks and/or no-till planting can start now.
"With most field scouting for insects, weeds and other pests winding down, harvest is a great time to scout and plan where conservation practices could be implemented or installed to help reduce soil erosion and improve water quality," Shelton says. "The combine cab offers an excellent vantage point to note where channels have developed in the field from the concentration of runoff water."
Gullies or rills typically develop in the same place each year. Spring tillage may fill these spots, but they redevelop during the growing season.
Consider installing grassed waterways in these areas because the channel helps reduce erosion by the grass slowing the velocity and energy of flowing water. Filter strips and riparian forest buffers, placed along the edges of streams or other water bodies can serve as a last line of defense for sediment and other pollutants that might enter the water.
"These practices are very effective at trapping sediment and enhance the infiltration of runoff water," he says. "Buffers also improve safety by keeping equipment away from the edge of the stream and provide excellent habitat for pheasants, songbirds and other wildlife."
Grassed field borders can provide a convenient location for unloading combines into trucks or grain carts, loading planters, or for turning combines, planters and other equipment around.
Field borders often can be used to eliminate crop rows that would otherwise be planted up-and-down hill, thus further reducing soil erosion. They also can provide habitat for wildlife.
Windbreaks, shelterbelts and living snowfences are similar practices, where rows of trees and shrubs are planted to protect an area from wind and/or blowing snow.
Windbreaks also can reduce heating costs and improve livestock performance in the winter, and they provide excellent wildlife habitat.
"All these conservation practices require a commitment of land and the planting of permanent vegetation (grasses, shrubs, trees)," Shelton says.
The federal Continuous Conservation Reserve Program, the Nebraska Buffer Strip Program and other programs are available to assist landowners with the adoption and maintenance of many different conservation practices. For more information, contact a local Natural Resources and Conservation Service, natural resources district or UNL Extension office.