By Cindy Baldwin
WINDOM – Soil conservation is an ongoing job – not a one-and-done. Susan Raleigh-Rome’s farm north of Windom is a good example of an established project that needed some major changes to address a new problem. Raleigh-Rome is being recognized as the McPherson County Conservation District Bankers’ Award for Soil Conservation winner during the group’s annual meeting Jan. 27. Tim Bornholdt, Raleigh-Rome’s brother-in-law, is the farm operator.
The farm located on 1st Ave. has been in Raleigh-Rome’s family since her great grandfather farmed it. Raleigh-Rome and her late husband, Mike Raleigh, purchased the farm in 1978 from her grandfather, Owen O’Neill. Bornholdt has been farming it for about 30 years. The field’s waterways were established in 1968-69 and terraces were completed in 1971 by O’Neill and operator L.L. Smyres. One waterway carried runoff from the north half of the field and the other one drained the south half of the field. The
water then moved into an adjoining field to the west. The farm has been no-till since 1999 with a wheat-corn-milo-soybean rotation. No-till practices, along with terraces and waterways, are considered to be the best practice to prevent erosion on sloping ground.
It wasn’t enough, however, to stop erosion developing at the bottom of one of the waterways. According to Bornholdt, the problem most likely began when silt raised the bed of one of the original waterways making a steeper drop where the water left the property, eventually cutting a gully from the bottom of the waterway into the adjoining field.
“I think we first started noticing a problem nearly 20 years ago, but it wasn’t that bad, and we lived with it,” Bornholdt said. But as time went on the erosion became worse and started cutting the gully back into the waterway itself. “We couldn’t solve it and every year it got worse. Something had to be done.”
Bornholdt worked with staff at McPherson County NRCS to evaluate the problem and draw up a plan to address it. The solution was to take out three-fourths of the problem waterway, widen the remaining one and rebuild the terraces to move runoff to it. Because they were redirecting the waterflow as it entered the neighbor’s field, Bornholdt said they also consulted with them to get their approval. As it turned out, the new plan also benefited the neighbor.
“Our water was cutting into their field also, so it worked for them to move the entry point to their property,” Bornholdt said. “The water now enters their field within a few feet of a pasture instead of a planted field.”
The waterway work was done first. The one that was to remain was nearly doubled in width so it could handle all the drainage from the field and was replanted with grass. Work on the waterway was completed in 2016. With that done, work began on the terraces. Of the original six terraces, one was not changed and the other five were reshaped to handle a larger waterflow and to direct it to the remaining waterway on the south end of the field. While water flow was the primary concern when designing the
new terrace system, consideration was also given to accommodating the larger equipment used today when planning the placement, height and slope of the terraces. The project was partially funded with EQIP money.
“So far we are happy with it,” Bornholdt said. “It’s better than what we had, and we are filling in the gully that had washed out. A small portion of the old waterway is still there and still is moving water as there is a natural spring that comes out into it, but the erosion is much less. Of course, we still have terraces to farm, but they are doing a better job for us.”