For Texas farmers and ranchers, soil erosion is more than just an inconvenience — it can reduce crop yields, drive up production costs, damage water quality, and even create safety hazards for both people and animals. And while we have little control over the two main causes — wind and rain — we can take measures to minimize soil erosion and reduce its negative impact on our operations.
What causes soil erosion
Soil erosion is the gradual wearing away of soil surface, which removes organic matter and key nutrients in the process. If it continues unchecked, erosion can degrade soil quality and decrease rooting depth, reducing crop yields. Sediment and nutrients removed by water erosion can kill fish and impact water quality, and blowing dust from wind erosion can cause safety hazards.
Before we move into ways of preventing soil erosion, let’s look at the top three causes.
Also known as “soil drifting,” wind erosion is the removal, transportation, and deposition of topsoil by high air velocity close to the ground. Wind erosion is most often a problem on flat land and in drier climates.
Soil can also be carried away by rain or irrigation water. There are two basic types of water erosion:
With sheet erosion, usually caused by direct rainfall, soil materials are removed uniformly from the top layer
With rill erosion, often caused by poor surface drainage, little streamlets of water cause rills and eventually gullies to form.
Tillage erosion occurs when tilling activity drags the soil downhill. The extent of the erosion varies depending on the grade of the slope and the depth and speed of tillage.
How to prevent soil erosion
While there’s not much we can do about wind and rain, we can try some proven techniques of preventing soil erosion. The right technique (or combination of techniques) for your Texas farm or ranch property depends on the type of soil, topography, climatic conditions, and other factors. If you need assistance, contact your local Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) or your local AgriLife Extension County Office.
Crop Rotation: Rotating in high-residue crops — such as corn, hay, and small grain — can reduce erosion as the layer of residue protects topsoil from being carried away by wind and water.
Conservation Tillage: Conventional tillage produces a smooth surface that leaves soil vulnerable to erosion. Conservation tillage methods such as no-till planting, strip rotary tillage, chiseling, and disking leave more of the field surface covered with crop residue that protects the soil from eroding forces.
Contour Farming: Planting in row patterns that run level around a hill — instead of up and down the slope — has been shown to reduce runoff and decrease the risk of water erosion.
Strip Farming: In areas where a slope is particularly steep or there is no alternative method of preventing erosion, planting fields in long strips alternated in a crop rotation system (strip farming) has proven effective.
Terrace Farming: Many farmers have successfully combated erosion by planting in flat areas created on hillsides in a step-like formation (terrace farming).
Grass Waterways: By planting grass in areas of concentrated water flow, farmers can prevent much of the soil erosion that results from runoff, as the grass stabilizes the soil while still providing an outlet for drainage.
Diversion Structures: Used often for gully control, diversion structures cause water to flow along a desired path and away from areas at high risk for erosion.
Your soil is one of the most important assets of your farming or ranching operation, and losing it through erosion can seriously impact your bottom line. The time, effort, and resources you spend on erosion prevention today is a valuable investment in the future of your business. For more information about preventing soil erosion and overall soil health, check out these online resources: