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Terraces are worth farming around

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 11/21/2012 1:19 PM

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RICE COUNTY, Minn. — For three weeks from August through Labor Day, the field looked like a busy child's sandbox as conservation structures were installed.

Now, the field is turning green as tillage radishes planted to increase soil tilth and organic matter grow.

It may be the first time tillage radishes were planted in a Rice County field, said Tom Coffman, district conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Rice County. The roots of tillage radishes go down deep and break compaction. Sometimes, the compaction is so severe, the radish will actually turn when it hits a hard pan. The radishes die overwinter, leaving a loosened root zone for the following crop.

He planted some in his garden in mid-August and they are as big as a baseball bat already.

Coffman shared a sample of the radish on the Rice County Conservation bus tour held Sept. 20. The land operated by Kurt Schrader where the radishes are growing was one of the stops.

Schrader is installing terraces and a water and sediment control basin on the rented ground by leveraging the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

EQIP is a taxpayer-funded federal program that provides financial and technical assistance to farmers to help them implement conservation practices.

It would have been impossible for him to afford to make the conservation upgrades on his own, especially on rented ground, Schrader said.

EQIP allows operators to have contracts on rented ground, Coffman said. Operators need only obtain a signature from the landowner giving them permission to construct the structural practice on their land. The renter is expected to maintain the structure for 10 years.

Schrader said his landlord supported his desire to improve the property by installing conservation structures.

"I've got the best landlords ever," he said.

Schrader is also doing more work on the property aside from the EQIP contract. He used an earth-moving scraper to move soil from the bottom of the hill to eroded knolls. He can tell the knolls are yielding less from the monitor in his combine. The knolls have lost their topsoil over the last 150 years, dating to when the wheat boom began in Minnesota.

"Things are improving, but there's no doubt we've lost a lot of topsoil." Schrader said. "That's why funding projects like this are so essential."

The water and sediment control basin at the bottom of the drainage way will temporarily store runoff and give sediment a place to settle before it lands in Lake Byllesby. The terraces on the property will collect water before it gains too much momentum and funnels it underground.

"They're worth farming around," Schrader said.

The terraces are spaced to fit his equipment.

There are more terraces than waterways in Rice County, said Steve Pahs, district manager of the Rice County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Schrader will also install a variable-width buffer strip along the edge of a creek that runs through the property and talked about eliminating the box elder trees and establishing native grasses.

The buffer strip will vary in width from 20 to 50 feet to accommodate Schrader's farming equipment between the last terrace and the buffer, Coffman said. This way, he won't have point or short rows.

Schrader has a corn-corn-soybeans rotation on the property. The field will be planted to corn in spring. Fall tillage will be v-ripping. The following spring he will plant corn and he won't do fall tillage. Soybeans will be no-tilled into corn stalks in the third year of the rotation and there will be no fall tillage following soybeans. He will come back in the spring following soybeans with a field cultivator.

People interested in learning more about conservation projects funded through EQIP should contact their county NRCS office. New contracts can't be issued now since the farm bill expired, but staff are still there to help.