Assistance available for ephemeral gullies
By KRISS NELSON
Ephemeral gullies. If you have any in your fields, chances are you know just the spots they are located.
Lori Altheide, assistant state conservationist for programs, said ephemeral gullies can be described as areas of “silent erosion” because they can easily be smoothed over and farmed on drier years.
“If they’re not fixed, typically the farmer would fill them in each year with tillage,” she said.
According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), ephemeral gullies are those areas in cropland fields where small gullies appear after heavy rains. Tilling an ephemeral gully to close it leaves nutrient-rich topsoil vulnerable to erosion.
To help farmers address issues with ephemeral gullies, NRCS has selected Iowa as one of six states to take part in a pilot project that will provide financial assistance to farmers. The other five states included in the pilot project are Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Idaho and Oregon.
Altheide said they are encouraging Iowa’s land owners with any of those spots that could be causing potential issues to go to their county’s NRCS office and put in an application for the new pilot project.
Application for the $5 million that is available in Iowa through the ephemeral gully pilot project has a deadline of June 21.
The NRCS said priority will be given to applicants with tracts that were selected for conservation compliance reviews in the past two years and received variances to address ephemeral gully erosion.
“What the field office would then do is to work with the producer to identify what areas they have concerns with – those ephemeral gullies,” said Altheide. “It would be a plan within NRCS meeting with the producer to determine where the resource concerns are.”
Once those concerns are addressed, the type of conservation practices or management will be decided.
“Ephemeral gullies can be treated in different ways,” she said. “A producer could select from the practice list of cover crops, field boarders, grassed waterways, terraces – our whole practice list that we have to offer for the ephemeral gullies are all practices that are suitable for treating gully erosion.”
Those practices could vary from field to field.
“Depending on the producer’s concerns and what their goals are, we might use different practices for different ephemeral gullies,” she said. “They are not all treated the same.”
Grass waterways, Altheide said, tend to be the most popular.
“Those grassed waterways out in the middle of the field and there are crops on either side of them,” she said. “That is the most common one, but then terraces are another popular ephemeral gully control practice.”
Altheide hopes the pilot project will bring extra awareness to these sensitive areas of a landowner’s field.
“By disking and not fixing, you are losing productive farm ground,” she said. “The way we look at it, we put a practice in to treat ephemeral gullies, and not for those dry years. You may not need it every year, but when you need it, it’s there. It is value averaged over a number of years. That is important.”
Not only are you protecting the soil in the field, but there are benefits for ephemeral gully repair elsewhere as well.
“Downstream you are going to see nutrient reduction,” Altheide said. “You are going to see less sedimentation and water quality improvements.”
According to the NRCS, since the 1985 farm bill, farmers have been required to control erosion on fields that are classified as highly erodible.
Each spring, NRCS conducts compliance reviews on random selection of highly erodible fields to determine if erosion has been adequately controlled.
A non-compliance ruling can effect benefits that farmers receive from USDA agencies, including program payments and Price Loss Coverage. If erosion control issues are identified during compliance reviews, farmers may be given variances, which provide time for them to adjust and install needed conservation practices.
“Our advice to farmers is to work with your local NRCS staff to develop conservation alternatives that will address your erosion issue,” Kurt Simon, NRCS stave conservation, said. “We are dedicated to working with farmers and ranchers to figure out ways for them to produce agricultural products in ways that are both economical to them and respectful of the resources. This pilot provides us with additional funding to do that.”
Altheide said the awareness and practices needed for additional conservation is growing.
“We’re seeing producers use new methods of conservation with especially cover crops and cover crops in combination with no-till and contour farming and field borders,” she said. “They’re using a combination of conservation practices to solve their erosion problems. They are being very proactive in what they are looking at and it’s a benefit not only for their erosion control; we are seeing benefits with water quality as well.”
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