The answer to the terrace conundrum is sure to vary depending on the field. Staff from your local NRCS office and Soil and Water Conservations District can help brainstorm solutions to fit your equipment and fields. No-till has certainly reduced soil erosion, but this past year has proven it isn’t a cure all. And no-till is much more effective when planted on contour. If planted up and down the slope (which we see quite often), the coulters and disc openers create miniature channels for water to run downhill and pick up speed.

Perhaps one of the more promising solutions is to start addressing the cause instead of the symptom, or addressing soil infiltration instead of soil run-off. NRCS and Soil and Water Conservation Districts have cost-share programs available for farmers willing to try cover crop mixes to improve their soil’s infiltration rates and water-holding capacity. Cover crops can have multiple benefits.

For instance, in a three-way mixture of turnips, rye grain, and crimson clover, the turnips can bust up compacted soil layers, the rye can reduce weeds through natural allelopathic compounds, and the crimson clover can cut down on fertilizer costs by fixing nitrogen. The roots of cover crops improve pore space in the soil, allowing water to move downward. And the added organic matter acts as a sponge. Today some researchers are also turning to cover crops to fight back against herbicide-resistant weeds, especially pigweed. 

For more info on the potential of cover crops, check out some of Ray Archuleta’s soil health videos. Ray is a conservation agronomist for the NRCS and is passionate about cover crops.

Both terraces and cover crops are nothing new, but they deserve a second look and shouldn’t be discarded from our soil conservation toolbox in the era of no-till. Like many things, if we toss them out, we just might realize how much we need them.