For decades I have been restoring our farm fields from the ravages of tillage that goes way back to when the Prairies were first plowed.
I'll show some pictures and images that will give you an idea of the restoration process and how I use yield, aerial, and other maps to determine where to tile, where to haul soil and then as the healing process continues in the following years to hopefully see a dramatic increase in yield, soil structure and water infiltration/drainage.

North - map that shows the area in the first picture below.

Map that shows yield data, tile lines (blue), and area soil was hauled (black polygon) from the bottom ground.
The area with a lot of red dots shows very low yield. Yellow dots are better and green is the best areas of yield.

We first started GPS mapping yield with Microtrak back in 1995...long before John Deere and other farm equipment companies were thinking about the use of GPS and digital mapping.
This mapping technology has come a long way since the early days of Microtrak but even with the early and sometimes erratic data, we were able to determine areas of each field that needed attention for various aspects of yield and crop production improvements.

The blue lines are the tile I trenched in during the fall of 2017 and the black polygon is the area I hauled soil this fall.

East

Fall 2017 tiling.


1990 aerial map overlaid by the tile lines and area I hauled soil from the bottom.

Fall of 2020 soil work

I first plowed the area in the bottom, including part of the waterway.

We first purchased this soil mover in 1975 which is when I started hauling soil from the waterways that were filled in with silt and gullied alongside the edges.

Most farmers have a commercial contractor just bulldoze out the waterway and feather the soil out next to the waterway...the last place topsoil is needed.

About 15 years earlier I had hauled soil out of this waterway on the nearside of the plowed current area.
Next fall I plan on hauling more soil from this bottom and waterway on the farside.

I haul soil in stages...rather than cover that whole sidehill and take the chance we get big rains next year with bare soil - at least only this smaller area will wash, with the rest of the field above and below with no-till residue will hold and be stable.
Then next fall I'll haul more soil below this year's soil area.


First loads of soil hauled with the soil mover.

If you look closely on the left you can see the orange clay subsoil which is now the topsoil.
Decades ago it was brown and black topsoil which then washed to the bottoms because of tillage.


Looking to the bottom

View of where I hauled the soil.


159 loads with the soil mover = 398 tons of soil on the initial layer over 2017 tiled sidehill.
This layer is about 1 feet of new topsoil.
14 extra loads to shape end rows = 35 tons.
There was a deeper eroded area on the endrows so I added another layer which made it about 2 feet.
2 feet is how much topsoil has eroded off tilled sidehills like this on basically every farm in this area.

Spring of 2019 after a rain. You can still see the areas between the tile lines are not properly drying out after a rain.
It takes 3 to 5 years for the subsoil water (sidehill seeps) to find the tile lines, plus the decades of packed wet clay can take decades before a better soil structure comes back.
It also takes several years to build up the surface residue and organic matter from better crop growth.
Hauling good topsoil over these areas will dramatically speed up this process.


Spring of 2019 after a heavy rain with some rill erosion. You can see the tile lines which are a much lighter clay color.
2002 soybeans. We went through various stages and changes with no-till that we started in 1981 by simply planting corn directly into soybean stubble.
Over the years we had to make adjustments and newer style equipment was being developed for no-till over the traditional tillage methods.
By 1990 we were converted fully to no-till with both corn & soybeans.

1999 soybeans - Early on with our no-till there was still more erosion than we wanted but converting from tillage to no-till takes years and even decades in some cases for the soil structure and organic matter to improve and most importantly for the nightcrawlers and other earthworms to come back which dramatically improves water infiltration and soil stability.
In this picture you can see eroded soil was trapped by cornstalks and other surface residue in this bean field.


The far side of this picture is where I tiled a few years ago, and hauled soil that was shown above.
Picture just above was the spring of 2003 where we drilled in strips of rye the fall before to help hold the soil on the steeper sidehills...we then killed it off before planting the corn.
We also tried variations of using fall rye strips and later planting rye on the whole field of soybean stubble.
Rye cover crops created new challenges and from year to year was not consistent and some years actually hurt the corn crop yield.

1999 fall harvest on this same area of the field.

I started experimenting with fall rye long before anyone thought of using it as a cover crop...sometime back in the early 1990s, I would plant it on the steeper areas of endrows and on sidehills that I hauled soil on. Then the next spring I would kill it off with roundup with my spot sprayer before the crop was planted. Sometimes I would leave it on those steep areas of endrows that were the previous year's soybean stubble that was planted into corn and let it go fallow for that year.
We generally didn't have erosion and runoff problems with the previous year's corn stalk residue planted into soybeans, so I didn't use rye in those cases.


June 13 - fall rye killed off on a sidehill where I hauled topsoil the previous fall.
I let this rye get quite tall before I killed it off...then we drilled soybeans in it.


Example of rye left on one of the steeper endrows of soybean stubble going into corn.


April 14 - Rye on endrows that was eventually killed off and planted into corn.


April 23 - Root system of a rye plant.

Now some people will argue that spending all of these hours and dollars to repair such small areas of an overall field/farm are not financially sound, but they don't understand all of the benefits beyond yield increases.
You will get stuck less on really wet years...During most springs, when the rest of the field is ready to plant, these areas are still wet, but you still plant right through them which ruins the seedbed and soil structure for the rest of the growing season.

While the yield improvement will take many years to pay for itself, improving these areas of a field/farm will increase the value of the property when it is sold someday.

But the biggest reason for tiling and improving the soil structure in these areas is to stop most of the erosion.
The big reason why no-till slows down and prevents erosion is rain water infiltrates the much better soil structure created by the process over tillage which destroys soil structure, BUT when there is a wet sidehill and sidehill seeps even when it isn't raining, when those heavy rain events come there is no place for the rain to go but run down the surface of the sidehill...thus tiling and improving the soil surface will allow the rain water to soak in, whereas before it had to run down the slope.

If we knew about no-till and tiling the hills back when terraces were first being built, there would be a lot less terraces today.
This farm above has lots of C, D, and even one area of E slope but has NO terraces.
After decades of no-till we have less to no erosion compared to other farms with terraces and their land is tilled.

This brings me to part 2 of this feature...TERRACES on a different farm.


In the spring of 1974 we planted oats on our "Big Hill" with plans to build terraces on this field that summer...
Little did we know about a major flooding season coming.

We disked the field and sewed the oats which was starting to emerge when we got a rainfall event of epic proportions...we got 3 inches in 15 minutes along with hail on our place.
Below is the result of that event.

The waterway next to the lane was completely buried and the gravel was washed off the lane. A flood followed since the area north of us also received torrential rains.

BUT, this wasn't the end of the "Noah" event...We had a total of 5 floods in two weeks with a total of 18 inches of rain.

The field just below the lane had been disked and large strips of soil washed away down to the depth of the disked soil...and this is a relatively flat area before it reaches the creek.

One of the five floods...
We used the loader and rear mount blade to push back the mud from the lane, only to get another gully-washer. You can see some of the previous piles of mud that didn't wash away.

Note the "Save Gas" button on my Volkswagon dashboard...this was during the 1974 Arab Oil Embargo of 1973-74.


Terraces being built by Jack & Frank Boeck construction - summer of 1974.
This was back when there were four-row planters, so the terraces were designed on the topside so that they could be planted with a four-row.

The problem is that only a few years later, eight-row planters were built, so we decided to just grass out the top sides, realizing we would lose some crop production acres.

Then comes along planters that are 30 and 40 feet wide, with huge combine corn and soybean heads.

The terraces are now difficult to impossible to get around on the ends.

In our case on this hill an offset terrace had to be built, which makes it impossible to farm with the present-day huge planters, sprayers, and combines.

So I decided to shorten up one terrace so there would be 80+ feet for endrows and more room available to get around the offset terrace.

I reclaimed as much of the topsoil and sod on the topside and stored it in piles for later use to put back over the clay areas where the terrace once was.


Finished shortening the terrace.

Before I shortened this terrace, I trenched in tile in the area above it that had been in CRP for 10 years and had been an area of sidehill seeps and wet spots.

Subsoil had been previously borrowed from this sidehill back in the 1960s when the county wanted to reshape the road and fill in the valley between the 2 large hills in that road.

The topsoil was pushed back on our field and then subsoil removed and then they pushed back the topsoil.
The problem is, when you disturb soil structure like this, it really ruins it.
After that we had a lot of wet spots in that sidehill and when we put in the terraces, this only compounded the subsoil compaction and disturbance of the topsoil.


Lateral tile lines connected to the main line.

There were 2 tile inlets for these terraces. I dug down and found the tubes that went under the terraces, hooked up the tile, and then eliminated the above ground inlet.

Because of no-till, we don't get the run-off like we did when we tilled, so the inlets are no longer needed.

During the 1993 Midwest flood, these terraces were NOT topped by the 10+ inches of rain during that event we had.
The reason I know this is because the "shoreline" of residue in our terraces were NOT at the top of the terrace. ALSO, most other terraces in our area on tilled farms had major blowouts in their terraces...we had none.

About 5 years ago I had experimented with eliminating a tile inlet on another terrace but just capped the end and filled in the hole.
The next spring after snow melt and heavy rain, water was standing on the surface of the ground where the inlet once stood. So I dug down and connected tile to the pipe that goes under that terrace. I ran a tile line both ways from that tube for about 30 feet and after that, never had standing water in that low spot where the inlet once stood.

Most of the time I can just use my T device to gauge depth of the tile trench on a slope but sometimes it is very flat so I have to use a transit.


This map shows the tile lines I added to this sidehill.


This map shows the tile plus, the area reclaimed on the topsides of the terraces which can now be farmed.


For years, I've been wanting to reshape the top sides of the terraces so we could finally farm that area for the first time since 1974.
As I wrote earlier, the terraces were built for four-row equipment, but you can't farm the topsides with today's equipment.
So I went to work with the plow, disk, grader, chisel plow, and loader and leveled out the top sides so they can be farmed.

We gained about 1.75 acres by doing this.


Another thing I learned over the years tiling in the sidehills is that you need go closer with the lines, than as with tile in the good bottom ground land.

In 2013, I added 2 lines in a sidehill. Several years later, even after hauling good bottom ground soil over this area, I noticed after rain events that water was standing on top of the ground below the 2 lines I had trenched in back in 2013.


The 2 arrows point to the water standing on the top of the ground after a heavy May 5, 2019, rain.
The arrows are just about where I added another lateral tile line in the fall of 2020 which is shown below.
Now I realize that I had been using the wider spacings used in the bottoms and it wasn't going to work.

So this fall I added one more lateral and after overlaying this line on the aerial map, I can see that the wettest area is where this new line is now.

I also noticed that gray clay and orange clay was in this area where the water was standing.

It will be interesting in the next few years to see how this extra line works...


2013 lines

2013

2020 - the light blue line is the new tile line I added and where water was standing in the picture shown above.
You can see this line is about in the middle of darkest area.
This dark area showed up in the 1990 aerial map because the soil is wet on the surface.
Like the yield map shown early on in this feature - red is worst yield, yellow better, and green the best.

You can see the chunks of orange and gray subsoil dug up in the area where the water was standing on top of the ground after a heavy rain.
These types of soil are very tight and get compacted very easy so the subsoil water doesn't move as readily to the tile.

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