Effective grass waterways need regular maintenance

Producing a good crop demands a lot of attention during the growing season. But producers and landowners shouldn´t overlook the maintenance needs of grass waterways and other conservation practices, either, said DeAnn Presley, Kansas State University Research and Extension soil management specialist.

"Grass waterways are an important part of a farm´s overall soil conservation plan," Presley said. They are permanent strips of grass seeded in areas of cropland where water concentrates or flows off a field from terraces or diversions.

"The purpose of the waterway is to carry runoff water from a field. The grass prevents the water from forming a gully and traps some sediment. In addition, the vegetation absorbs some of the chemicals and nutrients in the runoff water, and provides habitat for small animals and birds," she said.

Like other conservation structures, grass waterways must be maintained in order to function properly. Presley recommended these practices for maintaining grass waterways:

* Lift equipment out of the ground and shut off spray equipment when crossing the waterway. Encourage commercial applicators to do the same. If bare spots appear, reseed with sod-forming grasses.

* Do not use the waterway as a roadway. Tracks can turn into gullies in single, intense rain events.

* Do not overgraze or allow livestock trails to form. These can quickly turn into gullies. If gullies form, fill, reshape, and reseed. Contact the local Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) field office for recommendations on grass species to plant.

* Fertilize cool-season grasses regularly at a rate of 30 to 40 pounds nitrogen per acre between November and mid-March. Many producers fertilize their grass waterways when they topdress wheat.

* Mow periodically, but don´t mow between April 20 and July 15 when birds are nesting. It´s important to mow grass because it encourages the formation of a dense sod. Shorter, thick grass is more effective at trapping sediment than taller grass as tall grass will lay over in an intense rain event.

* Be careful not to till into the edges of the waterway.

* Avoid end rows planted parallel along the waterway, because they may allow gullies to form on the waterway edge.

For more information, refer to the K-State Research and Extension Publication MF –1064 http://www.oznet.ksu.edu/library/crpsl2/mf1064.pdf or contact your local U.S. Department of Agriculture NRCS field office, Presley said.

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