Soil Management for Water Conservation

Photo comparing 2 sorghum field rows

Improved water infiltration, less runoff and reduced evaporative losses in no-till systems can save from 5 to 12 inches per year, making more water available for crop production. The tilled grain sorghum on the right yielded only 61 bu/A in a dry year while the no-till on the left yielded about 121 bu/A.

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Residue Management

field photo showing results of runoff, crusting

The tilled plots in the foreground of this photo had considerable soil loss and runoff during intense spring rains. The tilled soil surface was susceptible to raindrop impact, causing erosion and surface crusting. The crop residue on the no-till plots in the background absorbed raindrop impact and allowed more water to infiltrate into the soil. With the improved soil structure, the crop is healthier in the no-till.

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Soil Biological Life

Soil sample

While tillage has been used to prepare a seedbed, it also destroys the existing root structures in the soil and some of the soil's biological life. Without this biological life, soil structure suffers and many of the nutrients are not as available for crop uptake.

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Soil Structure

No-till soil clod on the left, tilled soil clod on the right

Soil is much more than the individual particles of sand, silt, and clay. Ideally, the soil should be one-half solid materials (sand, silt, clay, nutrients, minerals, organic materials, and biological life) and one-half pore space (half of that containing water and the other half being air space). Biological life and organic matter provide the "glues" to create soil aggregates, forming soil structure.

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Tillage Concepts

Demonstration of tillage and residue

Tillage of the soil has been used to prepare a seedbed, kill weeds, incorporate nutrients, and manage crop residues. The goal of the tillage system has been to provide a proper environment for seed germination and root growth for crop production.

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Reducing Off-Site Movement of Atrazine and Pesticides

The US Environmental Protection Agency is conducting an intermediate reassessment of atrazine label certification to ensure the safety of atrazine found in streams for aquatic life and human health.
As part of this effort Syngenta was required to set up 40 monitoring stations in potential runoff sites across the Midwest.

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Pesticide Drift Reduction & Prevention

Pesticide drift occurs when pesticides are transferred in air away from the intended application site into adjacent areas. Pesticides can move as spray droplets, vapor drift, or solid particle drift.

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Pesticide Leaching & Runoff Management

Runoff and/or leaching can occur when pesticides are carried off the application site into water such as rivers, lakes and streams, wells, storm sewers, or into groundwater. Runoff/leaching can occur when too much pesticide is applied or is spilled on the surface, too much rainwater or irrigation water occurs in a short period of time, or highly water soluble pesticides are used.

To gain a better understanding of how, where and why water runs off and how to prevent pollution read the following UNL publications:

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Chemical & Physical Characteristics of Pesticides

Understanding the chemical and physical characteristics of a pesticide allows the applicator to make better decisions about which pesticide active ingredient and/or formulation to use for a particular situation. Two chemical characteristics of interest are water solubility and volatility. The more water soluble a pesticide is, the greater the potential for runoff and leaching. The more volatile a pesticide is, the greater the potential for drift.

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