Soil rolling may be adding to erosion problems

When it comes to timing, it’s a perfect year to study soil erosion in Manitoba.

Many parts of southern Manitoba have looked like the 1930s this May, thanks to minimal rain and extremely dry topsoil on hundreds of fields.

On a number of days this spring the sky turned gray and vehicles were covered in a fine layer of dust.

While it’s only a piece of the story, one farm practice may be increasing the amount of soil erosion this spring: rolling of soybean fields.

“There may be a lot of unnecessary land rolling going on,” said Cassandra Tkachuk, production specialist with Manitoba Pulse & Soybean Growers.

“It sort of looks like the dust bowl out there these days. We need to think of some of the practices we can change … to try and prevent that.”

Growers typically roll fields before or after seeding to push rocks and root balls into the soil, thus preventing combine damage at harvest.

However, farmers may be rolling their soybean fields out of habit, even when there are no rocks.

“This is obviously not the only factor at play, but it could be one thing we can control and try to reduce soil erosion,” Tkachuk said.

The MPSG is funding a study to understand how land rolling affects soil erosion. University of Manitoba soil scientist David Lobb, in collaboration with Agriculture Canada, Manitoba Agriculture and PAMI, will study rolled versus unrolled soybean fields in Manitoba.

“Pulverized soil from rolling at the time of seeding is especially at risk under dry conditions with no standing plants to slow wind erosion,” said the May issue of Bean Report, a MPSG publication.

Besides measuring the amount of erosion, Lobb and his team also want to know if blowing soil is a threat to emerging soybean plants.

It’s possible that blowing soil causes abrasion to plant tissue and may damage young soybean plants.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota studied land rolling and soybeans several years ago but mostly focused on the timing of rolling.

During the research they learned that rolling can exacerbate soil erosion.

“What it (the roller) can do is make fine particles of soil … on the top, and if you get a pounding rain or a good wind … there can be (soil) losses,” said Jodi DeJong-Hughes, extension educator with the University of Minnesota.

DeJong-Hughes learned many Minnesota farmers roll soybean fields whether they need to or not.

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