Biological Systems Engineering


Date of this Version



Journal of Soil and Water Conservation May-June 1991, Volume 46, Number 3


Copyright 1991 Soil and Water Conservation Society


Eastern Nebraska, especially the northeastern portion, has a history of severe soil erosion, due in part to a predominance of steep slopes and highly erodible soils (12). While the average annual allowable soil loss ("T" value) for most of these soils is five tons per acre, some fields have annual soil erosion rates that exceed 100 tons per acre. The loss of topsoil is critical, of course, but erosion from cropland also results in the removal of fertilizers and pesticides, which degrades water quality.

Even though farmers are generally aware that soil erosion is a national problem, many fail to recognize it as a problem in their own farming operation. Nowak (14) indicated that sheet and rill erosion often is largely invisible to farmers. Furthermore, while soil erosion has occurred, farmers generally have not experienced corresponding losses in productivity. In some cases, potential losses have been masked by use of fertilizers, improved hybrids, and irrigation.

Conservation practices, both structural and nonstructural, can be used to reduce soil erosion to acceptable levels. Existing conservation structures in many parts of eastern Nebraska, however, have not been maintained or have been removed, and there is a general reluctance to install new structures. Adoption of conservation tillage practices, especially no-till planting, also has been slow in much of northeastern Nebraska. Tradition is a strong deterrent. Even though soil erosion is a major problem, concerns about possible yield reductions, weed control, fertilizer requirements, soil limitations, and influence by peers have delayed widespread use of conservation tillage.

A working agreement

In mid-1984, personnel from the University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension (CE) and the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) met to discuss what actions could accelerate adoption of soil conservation practices in northeastern Nebraska. Participants agreed that a coordinated and concerted educational program would have the best chance for success. Cooperative Extension was invited to develop a proposal for such a project that would be funded by SCS. The proposal was accepted, and early in 1985 both agencies signed a working agreement that would provide $50,000 to Cooperative Extension each year.

The working agreement was a plan to develop and implement a comprehensive educational program or model study with the overall objective of reducing soil erosion in a northeastern Nebraska target area. The specific goals to be accomplished in the target area by 1990 were:

1. Reduce overall soil erosion by 20 percent.
2. Increase the acreage protected by conservation structures by 10 percent.
3. Increase the acreage protected by nonstructural practices by 20 percent. a. Expand conservation tillage for row crop acreage by 20 percent. b. Expand no-till planting of row crop acreage by 10 percent.
4. Increase the number of total farm conservation plans by 10 percent. In addition to these goals, it was determined that, if the program were successful, the approaches could be used in other areas of Nebraska and throughout the nation.