Working with Loess Soil

Around here, we don't use any irrigation at all. We depend on Mother Nature for all of our moisture, and it works well for us. Our soil holds a lot of moisture — about 2 inches per foot of water. So it takes about 20 inches a year to grow a crop of corn, and corn roots will go down approximately 5 or 6 feet. If your soils aren't too compacted, they might even go 7, 8 or 9 feet. So if you looking at starting out with 2 inches a foot, then you're looking at only needing about 6 to 8 inches; and maybe and you're sitting all right. That’s a nice advantage to have.

Loess soil is pretty unique — there are only a few places in the world where there's only this type of soil. One of them is here, and one of them is in China. It's a real deep soil — in places there's probably 40 or 58 feet deep of soil. Years ago, one of the soil conservation guys told us that you can scrape off about 20 feet of it, level off, mix a little fertilizer and air with the soil and raise the same crop you did before.

It's a coveted kind of soil, but it's highly erodible because it doesn't contain a lot of organic matter. To combat that, we have to do a lot of no till or minimum till. We raise corn on corn a lot more because you have a lot more root mass holdings that way. Beans aren't great for it, because they loosen the soil up so much and promote more erosion.

We’re finding out here in the last few years that we have to start using more cover crops in this area — just something to get you through the winter to hold the soil and create more organic matter by the root masses from the cover crop. Erosion is probably our biggest thing. Aside from cover crops, we also have a lot of terraces around here. While a lot of places around the country may have a terrace or two around the top of the hill, here we have six and sometimes seven or eight terraces going down the hill all the way to the bottom. We’re lucky to have the loess soil, but we do have to really take care of it.