Farm Soil Erosion Is Clear In Muddy Waters

Inside Dakota Ag

We had a grand time at the river that runs by the farm. The only downside was the color of the water

Published on: May 29, 2012

Over the Memorial Day weekend, I took three of my grandkids to the Buffalo River State Park, which is near our farm. The twins are 4-years-old and their brother is 8. We had a grand time throwing rocks in the river, catching frogs off a sandbar and wading in the water.

About the only downside to the day was the color of the water. It had rained pretty heavily the night before and the river was brown with silt.

The Buffalo River runs through some good Red River Valley farmland. But the corn and bean plants are pretty small yet and there isn’t much there to prevent water from carrying away some of the soil. When I look out over the fields, I don’t see much evidence of soil loss. But it sure was clear – or muddy – in the water.

Two of my grandsons try their hand at catching frogs in the Buffalo River, which was carrying a heavy load of silt over the weekend.
Two of my grandsons try their hand at catching frogs in the Buffalo River, which was carrying a heavy load of silt over the weekend.

This was the second time in May that I was reminder that there may be more farm soil erosion occurring around me than I realize.

The other wake-up call came from Dick Nissen, of Vermillion, S.D. As he drove me around his farm, Nissen pointed out the piles of silt that had been dug of pond created by a dam he built across a creek. Nissen had built the dam and pond to prevent water runoff during heavy local rainstorms from flooding cropland below the dam.

Silt lines the pond on the Dick Nissen farm near Vermillion. He had dug more than 5,000 tons of silt from a 60 acre pond.
Silt lines the pond on the Dick Nissen farm near Vermillion. He had dug more than 5,000 tons of silt from a 60 acre pond.

It had taken only a few years for 60-acre pond to fill up with silt eroded from the 2,600 acres in the watershed above the dam. All of it came from neighbor's farms -- their corn and bean fields, mostly. Nissen figured he had 5,000 tons of silt piled up around the pond. He plans to spread the silt on his farm like manure. Soil tests show it to be rich in nutrients and organic matter.

 “You want proof that water erosion is real?” asks Nissen, who no-tills and uses other conservation measures to protect soil. “Here it is.”

Silt is dumped in piles around Dick Nissens farm pond. Runoff from a 2,600 acre watershed filled the pond in just a few years.
Silt is dumped in piles around Dick Nissen's farm pond. Runoff from a 2,600 acre watershed filled the pond in just a few years.