May 9, 2013
OTTAWA — Putnam County Extension agent James Hoorman believes farmers could do more to alleviate flooding problems in the Blanchard River watershed.
Speaking Wednesday morning during the Blanchard River Flood Mitigation Coalition, Hoorman said agriculture accounts for 85 percent to 90 percent of the land area in the Blanchard River watershed.
“Agriculture is part of the problem and can be part of the solution,” Hoorman said. “If we want to make a real dent in the flooding problem, it’s going to have to be in agriculture.”
Hoorman said three things are important when slowing down the rate of water going to the ditches and rivers: water infiltration, soil absorption of water and peak water discharge to the rivers and streams. He said tillage and land management affect them all.
He compared the amount of water run-off on a bare tilled field, no-till field and permanent grass-covered field.
With 2.8 inches of rain, the run-off for the tilled bare soil is 1.49 inches. It is .83 inches for a no-till field on a straight row and .29 inches for a no-till field with a permanent grass field.
Hoorman said soils have lost 60 percent to 80 percent of their organic matter during the past 100 years.
"The soils have shrunk in a way that they can’t store as much water,” he said. “We are promoting concepts in agriculture that will improve soil absorption and quality and that will have a tremendous impact on flooding.”
Hoorman said extreme weather is becoming more common and there likely be an increase in extreme weather, including more floods and droughts.
“This will mean more frequent floods,” he said.
Hoorman said the Extension is trying to work with farmers to implement the concept of no-till fields with permanent ground cover.
“The problem is going from row crops to ECO farming is a big switch for many farmers,” Hoorman said. ECO farmers try not to use any tillage tool, manage so a continuous live cover is left on the fields at all times, and use other best management practices.
Hoorman said the end result is healthier crops, potentially less runoff and flooding, and cleaner water with higher farm profits when fewer inputs are lost in runoff.