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Erosion fight goes back decades

Mark Lawson’s dad, now deceased, carried a petition to form the Hendricks County soil and water conservation district. The Soil Conservation Service started 75 years ago, but farmers soon realized USDA needed help bringing soil erosion under control.

Key Points

• Farmers carried petitions to form soil and water conservation districts.

• Serious erosion problems led farmers to organize.

• What were considered good practices then have been re-evaluated.


Today, Lawson, an associate supervisor in Hendricks County, still sees the need to improve his land. When he had beef cattle, he erected a fence to keep them out of the creek. Now that he no longer has cattle, he’s entered land into the Conservation Reserve and will utilize USDA funding through other programs to plant about 7 acres of trees along the creek. He’s even studied which trees should fit best on which soils.

Former problems

Anyone who doesn’t think Mark Lawson and his dad before him have helped tame soil erosion need only look at pictures from the 1930s. Provided by Mike McGovern, communications specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the photographs are part of a collection dedicated to celebrating 75 years of the conservation movement.

One picture (not shown) of a farmer plowing under sweetclover illustrated a change in thinking. Thought to be a good practice then, and certainly good for crop rotation benefits, clean plowing left the soil vulnerable to soil erosion. Today, no-tillers might burn off the forage and no-till instead.

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Ready to improve: Mark Lawson hopes this land near a creek will soon grow trees to provide more protection.

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Too little residue: Corn residue alone couldn’t stop washing, even on fairly flat land. This photo was snapped
in 1938 in Benton County.

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Erosion won: Soil erosion claimed victory in this field near Dale in 1938. Note the mud on the road.

This article published in the October, 2010 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.