Along the Fencerow

During the past 15 to 20 years the no-till versus conventional till is a highly debated topic among producer circles.

One of the concerns of producers with the recent heavy rains is soil erosion. This factor alone has led some farmers into adopting more reduced-tillage or no-tillage practices that help retain residue on fields and during dryer weather, conserve moisture.

The latest research has to do with developing a computer model to measure the effect of mulch in the real world. At the moment, a research scientist from the Agricultural Research Service in Manhattan is updating the Energy and Water Balance computer model. The engineer, Simon van Donk, is in charge of this project.

The model simulates the effects of a mulch layer (no-till) on soil water content and temperature, soil water evaporation, and crop transpiration (water lost from living plant surfaces).

This model has been in the development stages for more than 25 years. It evaluates the effects that different management practices have on water conservation and soil temperature in the field. The soil temperature is important because it affects nutrient availability, disease development, and crop growth.

It currently is a useful tool for investigating questions that are difficult and costly to look at through field studies. The model, in its current state, can now look at the effect that mulch will have on a cropping system approach. Among other things, mulch modifies soil temperature, which may or may not be favorable for the growth of a specific crop.

The hope is that the modifications of this computer model will make it more helpful to agriculture researchers and producers who are working to improve soil, crop and water management practices. Simon van Donk claims the model is 50 times faster than the older model and much more accurate.

This model may help farmers make decisions with crop rotations in the future when making production management decisions.

Bradley Goering can be reached by telephone at 620-327-4941 or by e-mail at

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