Fall field practices to protect water quality

Good field practices in the fall are important to ensure water quality standards. The challenge is timing practices to accommodate harvest and weather.

Field practices to protect water quality are important year around. Fall is not an exception. The busyness of the season can make it a challenge but farms should remember to protect our water resources. Here are three simple practices that you can use.

Keep it Green Keep it Clean - Cover crops can be used to protect fields from wind and water erosion. This is especially important for fields that are tiled and utilize manure. Actively growing plants can capture nutrients protecting our groundwater as well as ensuring that the nutrients can be used for the following year’s crops. Cover crops will build up soil structure stabilizing the soil. This will reduce sediment moving off the field and into drainage ditches.

Plan - fall is a good time to plan which fields will be used for winter manure applications. Farmers should carefully assess their field characteristics looking at slopes as well as soil nutrients. Fields with moderate and steep slopes should be avoided. This is especially critical if the fields are close to surface water. Farmers can utilize the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) manure application rate index (MARI) to help them determine what fields are the best ones to do winter spreading.

Minimal soil disturbance is also important to safeguard our water resources. Conservation tillage practices should be considered to ensure that sedimentation leaving the field is negligible. Farmers should not apply phosphorus in the fall. Fall application of phosphorus increase the likelihood of phosphorus run-off which leads to buildup in surface water.

For more information on how field practices can be used to protect water quality contact your MSU Extension office or your local Natural Resources Conservation Service.

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