Skip Navigation

Seeing Is Believing

By Rebecca Gresham, NRCS Planner and Dee Ann Littlefield, NRCS Public Affairs Specialist

Seeing is believing and that is what the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is accomplishing with their new and improved rainfall simulators. The simulator is transported in a colorful graphic wrapped cargo trailer, complete with big screen television and a surround-sound speaker system designed for outdoor presentations. Built with soil health management principles and a producer audience in mind, NRCS employees are now able to physically demonstrate the importance of soil health in (on?) agriculture land.

The trailer is the brainchild of Nathan Haile, NRCS Texas state soil health specialist. Haile is taking the trailer around the state training staff on its use. Five more trailers just like it will be delivered soon across the state for education purposes.

Haile recently had the opportunity to debut the trailer to the public at the Fourth Annual Southern Soil Health Conference recently held in Wichita Falls, Texas.

Trent Manley, district conservationist in Wilbarger County, demonstrated in the parking lot of the Wellington Convention center for over 160 conference attendees. The trailers were created by former NRCS agronomist, Bud Davis, with Conservation Demonstrations of Salina, Kansas.

As the system simulated one inch of rainfall on local soils from five different management systems displayed in pans, farmers and ranchers were able to relate the demonstration to how rainfall affects the soil, root and vegetative systems on their own operations.  The proof of water infiltration and erosion could be seen in the catch buckets which held muddy or nearly clear water, depending on the management system they were associated with.

The comparison of bare ground to a living cover in a no-till system was undeniable. The pan with bare ground, representing conventional tillage, had almost 100 percent run off, almost no infiltration and excessive erosion. On the other end of the spectrum, the pan containing the sample from a field with five years of no-till had much less runoff and erosion, and considerably more infiltration.

“We don’t have an erosion problem, but an infiltration problem,” stated Manley during the demonstration.  “Nature loves diversity, and with the right combination of plants and roots infiltration, soil health improves.”

The microbe bacteria living in soil are key to soil health. Manley explained to the audience that soil must be protected and fed to be productive; productive soils drive the agro-ecosystem. Manley made the point that plant cover is needed to protect the soil from heat and evaporation.

“We cook a steak to 150 degrees to ensure kill off of any bacteria,” Manley pointed out.  “The same is true for soil. If we don’t protect it, then summer heat will drive the temperature up so high it will kill the good bacteria.”

Haile told the audience, “No matter what part of the agriculture industry you are in, you are in the soil business.”

With easy setup and ease of use of this rainfall simulator, Haile said NRCS staff can now focus on helping agricultural producers understand the importance of soil health and setting management goals for improvement.

Seeing is Believing, Rebecca Gresham, NRCS Planner and Dee Ann Littlefield,NRCS Public Affairs Specialist,(2018, January)