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Construction of Conservation Practices in Times of Drought

Construction of Conservation Practices in Times of Drought

By John E. Vavroch, Engineering Technician (Civil)
Natural Resources Conservation Service
Colby, Kansas

In 2012, raising crops proved to be tough. After a good wheat harvest, the faucet dried up, and it has proven difficult to grow even a crop of weeds. Many producers have gone ahead and “dusted” in the wheat crop while praying for rain. Others waited, hoping for a little help from Mother Nature. Just as crops need moisture to grow strong roots and a sturdy base, terraces and other conservation practices also need adequate moisture during construction to stand the test of time.

Terrace ridges need a good solid base to ensure their longevity. This base cannot be achieved without adequate soil moisture to provide the soil compaction necessary to withstand heavy equipment. Imagine shoveling a 1 to 1-1/2 ft high pile of flour. Stomp on it hard. Poof! It is almost gone! This is similar to what a tractor and heavy implement will do to a powdery terrace ridge. It will be squashed down to nothing in a short time.

The soil moisture content at the time of construction should be such that, when kneaded in the hand, a ball will form which does not separate readily. A typical flat channel terrace requires a cut depth of only 0.4 to 0.6 ft to provide the earth fill necessary to construct the terrace ridge. During these extremely dry periods it is almost guaranteed that adequate soil moisture will not be available to build a good, solid-based terrace. While these drought conditions persist, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) recommends delaying the construction or rebuilding of terraces and similar practices until moisture conditions become more favorable.

To learn more about conservation practices, please contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service office or conservation district office located at your local county U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Service Center (listed in the telephone book under United States Government or on the internet at More information is also available on the Kansas Web site at Follow us on Twitter @NRCS_Kansas. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.