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Farm Scale Study: Rain and Erosion

June 12, 2009
Rainfall at KSU Research Farm between May 1 and June 11, 2009. Dark bars show daily rainfall (left axis); light area shows cumulative rainfall (right axis). Suitable planting windows shown in gold.

Rainfall at KSU Research Farm between May 1 and June 11, 2009. Dark bars show daily rainfall (left axis); light area shows cumulative rainfall (right axis). Suitable planting windows shown in gold.

Kentucky has had a wet spring. Since the beginning of May we have had just 11 days suitable for planting. The most severe rainstorms came on June 10th and 11th, with more than 2.5 inches of rain in a 24 hour period.

That much rain on bare soil can lead to erosion. We do our best to protect our soil with cover crops between main crops, but the soil is bare and vulnerable around planting time.

With some trepidation we went out yesterday morning to survey the damage. Would our freshly-sown seed be washed away? Did our newly-transplanted sweet potatoes survive the onslaught?

Actually, it all looked pretty good.

The biointensive plots — where everything was transplanted during the May planting window — are growing very well. The plants are already big enough to hold the soil.

The direct-seeded crops are emerging in the market garden plots, too, and there was no visible erosion. They were all seeded during the May planting window.

All but one of the small farm plots was also free of erosion. There was a bit of a rivulet showing up in the fourth replicate of the small farm treatment. That’s not too bad, considering that a lot of the seed in the small farm treatments was just put into the ground a few days ago.

The video below shows all 12 plots from our farm scale study. The pictures were taken yesterday morning. The recently-incorporated cover crop residue is clearly visible. I think it’s largely responsible for helping hold the soil during a dramatic rainfall event at a vulnerable time of year. I’ll include these pictures with our application for re-certification of the organic land this year. The organic standards require erosion management and erosion monitoring programs. I feel like we’re doing pretty well if we’re seeing as little erosion as this after as much rain as we’ve had. I hope our certifier will agree.

Thanks to Tony Silvernail and John Rodgers for conducting the erosion survey. To view detailed weather records from the organic land at the Kentucky State University farm select the “Franklin County” weather station on Kentucky Mesonet.

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