The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

June 15, 2013

Conservation efforts touted

Staff and wire reports
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Task force and rainmakers — not the typical dialogue used for most farmers and ranchers, but people attending at the recent Ottawa County Conservation District Field Day in Miami learned how both terms can be beneficial to them.

“The only water that’s ever been or ever will be is here today,” said Clay Pope, executive director of Oklahoma Association of Conser-vation Districts.

This, Pope said, is why it is important for everyone to do their part to conserve for the future.

“One of the things we have been very successful in is working to protect the quality of water in the state of Oklahoma,” he said.

On the subject of water, Pope said the state is working on legislation to help with future droughts.

He said the state climatologist came to a recent meeting and said while we currently are seeing rain, if you look at the picture of the state of Oklahoma from last year, it would look a lot like this year — in terms of rain.

“Now does that mean we are going to go into a drought again this summer? “ Pope asked. “No, not necessarily, but we need to remember that not everywhere is out of the drought, and all it will take is a hot June and below-average precipitation to put us right back where we were.”

“What we’re trying to do is get the government to be proactive in the event of a drought instead of reactive.”

To plan ahead the state is looking to create a drought task force.

“When the governor declares a drought emergency, the head of the conservation commission, the head of the Oklahoma Water Resources board and the secretary of agriculture will come together to form an advisory drought task force and would then advise the state government what to do to deal with the drought,” Pope said.

Also part of the task force’s duties is to create a fund to put money into during normal years, that way it will be available in the event of a drought.

The purpose of the “lack of rainy day fund” is to cover and assist in everything from water conservation, infrastructure, help with rural fire protection, fire danger, cost share assistance, water for livestock and providing assistance for receding pastures, Pope said.

“Also, helping guys convert to no-till and implementing better irrigation practices and things like that to not only help out in a time of emergency but to come out of the drought in a little better shape than when we went into it,” Pope said.

Keeping with the theme of water conservation, Steve Alspach, Okla-homa state soil scientist, demonstrated the impact of rainfall on different types of cropland with the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) rainfall simulator.

In the experiment, five different plots — clean till, conventional, conservation, no-till and bermuda — were displayed with catch pans under each to examine how much water infiltrated the soil and buckets at the end of each plot to estimate the amount of sedimentation and run-off from each plot. “Rainfall” was then turned on for a few minutes and each plot was evaluated.

The results of the experiment show conventionally tilled soils had higher levels of run-off and little soil infiltration, while plots with higher organic matter had much better infiltration and less run-off.

“The point is to show how we manage our land determines what soaks in and what runs off,” Alspach said.

U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service showed in its latest report that soil moisture conditions were mixed after recent rains.

Statewide, 8 percent of topsoil showed a surplus of moisture, according to NASS, while 56 percent was adequate. Thirty-six percent was listed as short or very short.

Subsoil moisture conditions were worse, according to NASS. Only 3 percent was listed as having a surplus, with 43 percent adequate. Fifty-four percent was listed as short or very short.

To help farmers improve soil health and for future droughts, scientists are encouraging the planting of cover crops.

“Cover crops help reintroduce organic matter back into the soil, put nitrogen in the soil, has a shading effect that keeps weeds at bay, and keeps soil temps cooler,” Alspach said.

In terms of conservation, the objective of cover crops is to mimic nature, disturb the soil as little as possible, have a living cover as many days a year as possible and protect soil.

Alspach said rotating crops helps cut down disease pressure and sedimentation.

Danielle Beard, of Farm Talk, of Parsons, Kan., contributed to this story.