How to Reduce Tillage Erosion in Hilly Areas

In hilly areas that have been subject to cultivation over long periods of time increased tillage has lead to topsoil moving from the highlands to the lowlands. As Sharon Papiernik stated, ™”All tillage sends soil downslope…Reducing the number and intensity of tillage operations decreases tillage erosion.”  Less passes with tillage implements no doubt reduce tillage erosion, but there are remedies for land that has already been extensively eroded.

In these highly erodible landscapes there is a great difference in soil characteristics such as pH, soil texture, nutrient content, and organic matter content which combine to lower yields in the highlands where excessive topsoil has been removed.

When addressing tillage erosion two options were represented by Karl Retzlaff and Mike Rolstad and they both hope to deposit additional topsoil to the highlands and slopes that have been damaged by extensive tillage.  Retzlaff’s method was to move topsoil from lowlands that had accumulated it to highlands that have been depleted through extensive erosion.  Rolstad on the other hand, decided to take topsoil from non-cropped lands such as fence rows in order to move more topsoil into depleted areas.

Retzlaff Experiment
Reducing Tillage Erosion

Retzlaff’s solution included adding 6 inches of topsoil from the lowlands to the highlands.  In the most highly eroded areas corn yields went up by as much as forty-eight bushels and bean yields increased by as much as eight bushels.  There is no doubt that there is a sizable increase in yield, but yields dropped significantly where soil was removed and this process would cost nearly eight hundred dollars per acre.

Rolstad on the other hand chose to move soil from non-cropped areas to cropland.  He had four feet of accumulated soil along his fence rows which he chose to move to his eroded highlands.  Although he does not grow corn Rolstad’s soybean yields went up by seventeen percent and his wheat yields rose by eleven percent.  This process is an excellent method for restored highly eroded highlands, but it would be a very expensive process without access to earth moving equipment.

Tillage erosion is a major issue within America and throughout the world, but conservation methods such as no-till or conservation tillage greatly decrease tillage erosion.  However, some hilly soils are already badly degraded, so restoration projects like those conducted by Retzlaff and Rolstad will be the key to restoring productivity to eroded soils.

My name is Adam Bergschneider and I am a senior Ag Science major at Western Illinois University.  I am from Alexander, IL and I have been involved in production agriculture since I was a small child.  This topic is very familiar to me because our family farms many hilly areas and I know the effect of continuous tillage in highland areas.



2 thoughts on “How to Reduce Tillage Erosion in Hilly Areas

  1. kylekreps

    I am a firm believer in no-till. This was a good read. A lot of people do not understand the major issue of erosion or how to control it. As well as the impact it has on a farm.


  2. samkip93

    This is a very interesting experiment that they conducted. Even though it would be hard to justify the costs in a normal operation, it is cool to see that adding in soil from the lowlands and from other locations will increase yields that much. I hope to see some more experiments like this and in places where the profits exceed the costs.


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