Soil Health Management Series: Water Management

Soil Health Principle #1: Maintain Optimal Water Management

The Blackland and Tidewater region of eastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia is in a high rainfall area. Much of the area has an average rainfall of 50 inches per year or more and in some cases over the past few years there have been locations that recorder over 100 inches for the year. Added to this, with our elevation near sea level, water management is one of the most difficult aspects of farming in this region. Managing water properly is incredibly important to producing healthy crops, maintaining soil health and having a profitable farming operation.

Remove Excess Water Quickly

Fix primary drainage issues as quickly as possible. If you delay on this, many of the other things you can do to promote soil and plant health will not work well, particularly in the wetter areas of the field. Maintain field ditches and canals, utilize crowning or land leveling appropriate to the field contours, and consider tile drainage.

Improve Internal Drainage and Water Holding Capacity

Utilizing appropriate tillage, maintaining crop residues on the soil surface, and utilizing cover crops, will improve soil structure allowing more water to move down into the soil profile. This will have two primary affects. First, there will be less surface water that needs to be removed thus reducing strain on drainage systems and reducing crop injury from ponding water. Second, more plant available water will be stored in the soil profile to be used by the crop during drier periods.

Consider Advanced Water Management Systems

Crops need a consistent supply of water. Consider advanced systems, such as controlled drainage, sub-irrigation, and irrigation, that allow you to remove water, maintain water table at a certain level, and add water if needed.

For more information, please visit NCSU’s Drainage and Water Table Management website: https://drainage.wordpress.ncsu.edu

Guidelines for Managing Cover Crops in the Tidewater & Blacklands

Species & Planting

  • Before October 15 – Small grain at 30-50 lb/A + Clover at 5-8 lb/A
  • After October 15 – Small grain only at 40-70 lb/A

Termination

  • Terminate when cover crop is 6 to 10 inches tall or at least 3 week prior to planting, whichever is first.

Fertilization

  • Generally, no fertilizer is needed, unless you suspect very low soil nitrogen. Then add 10 to 15 lbs/A nitrogen at planting or in January or February.
  • Consider applying a complete biological soil inoculant at planting or over top once the cover crop is established.

IMPACT Agronomics Soil Health Monitoring Program

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