Do you remember the movie “A Christmas Story” and how Ralphie was obsessed with having a Red Ryder BB gun? Aunt Clara’s pink bunny pajama suit didn’t cut it. He wanted a BB gun.
Having owned a Red Ryder BB gun myself, I completely understand his obsession. Wow, a Red Ryder BB gun! Best thing ever at age 9!
As an adult, I still think Red Ryder BB guns are very cool. However I must confess, my real life obsession is soil and water conservation. Yes, that clearly makes me weird or as my wife kindly says “unique”.
Every single time I use our SoilCalculator, I see something new. SoilCalculator is cool, or as Ralphie would say, it is like “A Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time. Poetry. Sheer poetry…”.
Recently, I was working with my co-worker Bob — one of the Buman brothers working at Agren. Bob and I were looking at the conservation effects of contour grass strips. While initially reviewing the report, we were disappointed in the small reduction in erosion demonstrated by contour grass strips. Despite a high amount of grass strips, the field average of soil erosion only dropped from 4.6 tons/acre to 3.8 tons/acre. To me, that was a disappointment.
As we looked deeper into the SoilCalculator report, the additional benefits of the contour grass strips became obvious. Instead of the soil being deposited at the bottom of the hill, the soil was deposited in each contour grass strip on the hillside. Without the grass strips the soil eroded off of the side hill and was deposited at the bottom of the hill. For good soil health it is critical to keep soil on the hillside.
What I learned that day was how critical it is that we put the term “soil erosion” into context. For example, does the term “soil erosion” refer to the soil that is:
- moved entirely off of the field?
- moved from the side of the hill to the bottom of the hill? or
- moved from one area of the hill to another…even if that is only 10 feet?
Why we should care…
- If a farmer only cares about improving water quality, then the only concern should be with the soil that is transported off of the farm and into a water body. Honestly, if the soil is deposited within his field boundary it is not causing a water quality problem.
- If a farmer cares about improving soil health, then any soil movement, regardless of the distance, should be a concern. Any soil eroding off hillsides reduces soil health and yield potential on that hillside.
My take away point is that we need to delineate how we use the term “soil erosion.” Context really does matter. As we work with farmers, it’s important to understand their objectives and recommend conservation practices that meet those objectives. A filter strip that traps sediment just before it enters a stream will help water quality, but does nothing for soil health.
What Ralphie wanted was the Red Ryder BB gun — not a pink bunny suit. Next year, as conservationists, let’s help farmers understand what they need and give them what they want.