No-till method helps farmers, can clog roads

Craig J. Orosz | The Lima News A farm tile drain is half clogged with corn husks and stalks from last year’s harvest along Sherrick Road in American Township.
Craig J. Orosz | The Lima News A farm tile drain is half clogged with corn husks and stalks from last year’s harvest along Sherrick Road in American Township.

LIMA — The increasing use of no-till farming is beginning to cause more problems for the roadways when there are heavy rains.

The farming method leaves corn stalks and other plant debris on the field surfaces, which then washes away with rain water, right into the roadways, drainage ditches and catch basins.

“It plugs up the culverts or different crossings where the water might flow,” said Dave Louth, roadway engineer at the Allen County Engineer’s Office.

No-till farming involves not plowing or overturning the land and dirt is said to be beneficial to crops, farmers and yield.

To combat the corn stalks that float off the fields, the Engineer’s Office has sent out its snowplow drivers to push the debris off the roads and clear the way, Louth said.

If it’s really bad, they will come back again and get it out of the way. Though, they only push it to the side of the road, then it’s the farmer’s responsibility to dispose of it, he said.

“We want to urge the farmers to take responsibility for their own debris,” Louth said.

“Ovbiously it’s increased and been more difficult over the years because more farmers are turning to no-till farming,” he said.

Though it’s sometimes bad for the roads and drains, no-till farming can be good for farmers, especially when there’s a lot of rain.

George Schroeder, a farmer in Ottawa, has found that after three or four years of using no-till methods, there’s less water on his fields.

“I don’t think I’d have as good of crops if I plowed,” he said. “I don’t have water standing on top hardly at all now.”

He said he doesn’t notice debris and corn stalks draining off his fields because the no-till methods he uses “fasten” the stalks to the ground and to the plants.

“More [debris] is where they’ve done less tillage and left residue on the surface rather than incorporating it,” said Jeff Stachler, Ohio State University Extension Educator for Agriculture and Natural Resources in Auglaize County.

This may be called “minimum tillage,” Stacker said, adding that minimum tillage may cause run-off as well and it’s something many farmers use.

Though debris is more likely to float off fields when farmers don’t till, phosphorus may wash away more often when farmers do till, Stachler said, potentially impacting Grand Lake and Lake Erie with algal blooms.

“It’s kind of a give and take,” Louth said, as with no-till, less dirt filters out of the fields, though more corn stalks do.

And corn stalks can even form a type of “blanket” in ditches and over culverts, he said.

Though farmers who use a no-till method may have better yield, the flooding and rain has still lowered likely yield in Auglaize County, Stachler said.

“[We’re] likely not to maximize yield any longer,” Stachler said, though “it’s hard to tell what the impact will be.”

“It doesn’t matter which kind of system it is … you’re going to be impacted to some degree,” Stachler said.

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