Reduce wind erosion for long-term profitability

What you need to know

  • Leave residue standing to protect the soil surface.


  • Reduce tillage to improve soil aggregation.


  • Use cover crops and perennial crops. 


  • Maintain shelter belts to reduce wind speeds.

Soil loss via wind erosion cuts your profits and reduces productivity by removing a non-renewable crop production resource. Erosion is very costly because the nutrients it removes must be replaced.

Plus, it reduces the depth of productive soil, lowering the water-holding capacity. By controlling wind erosion, you’ll inevitably control water erosion as well.

About wind erosion

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Key factors for wind erosion

Certain areas of the United States are vulnerable to wind erosion. The Red River Valley area in eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota is particularly susceptible (Figure 4). This is due to a combination of factors.

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Impact of wind erosion

The most productive soil, called topsoil, is near the surface. The loss of topsoil leads to less healthy and less fertile soil, resulting in lower yields and more commercial fertilizer needed to make up the loss. 

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How to reduce wind erosion

Keep your soil covered and reduce the wind speed to prevent wind from removing your valuable topsoil.

1. Reduce the number of tillage passes and intensity. Leaving residue on the soil surface protects the soil from blowing away. You can virtually eliminate erosion on most fields with sufficient residue levels (Figures 8 and 9).

Soil accumulation
Figure 8: Soil accumulation in a ditch adjacent to a field with 40 percent residue in western Minnesota.
Soil accumulation
Figure 9: Soil accumulation in a ditch adjacent to a field with less than 10 percent residue 1 mile east of Figure 8.

2. Add a cover crop after a short-season crop. This is an excellent way to protect the soil through the winter and early spring months. Ryegrass is fairly inexpensive, easy to grow and provides excellent coverage from wind and water erosion.

3. Leave residue standing. This is an effective way to slow down wind speed. For example, raise the cutting height for small grains. Also, if chopping residue, leave alternating strips of un-chopped stalks.

4. Plant vegetative buffer strips in erosive areas to trap sediment and slow wind speeds.

5. Use living windbreaks or shelterbelts, which are rows of trees and shrubs that effectively slow the wind. When taking out an old windbreak or farm site, plant a new windbreak elsewhere in the field.

There are government programs available to assist with establishment costs and rental payments for these conservation practices.

Jodi DeJong-Hughes, Extension educator, David Franzen, Extension soil scientist, North Dakota State University and Abbey Wick, Extension soil scientist, North Dakota State University

Acknowledgements

This resource is a collaboration of University of Minnesota Extension and North Dakota State University Extension.

Reviewed in 2018

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