Mitigating Saline Seeps
contributed article by Justin Fruechte, Forage & Cover Crop Specialist
Millborn Seeds, Brookings, S.D.
This will finally be the year that the white, wet corner of that quarter finally raises a harvestable crop! As long as we plant it, fertilize it, spray it, and we don’t get that 2-inch rainfall this year; it’ll be just fine.
Optimism is a worthy trait in all farmers, but reality sometimes needs to dictate our decisions. It’s not a secret that many of the saline seeps in our fields aren’t going away. Many of these areas are getting bigger, so I think it’s relevant to discuss some options to mitigate them.
The best long-term option is to plant a perennial. A perennial mix of alfalfa and grass will be actively growing from April until October, and provide a living root channel to infiltrate water year-round. These seeps are wet, and if the area is unable to be tiled we need to make sure we are moving surface water down. By developing a mix that contains some salt tolerant alfalfa and wheatgrasses, you’ll have a hay field that’ll get you a few ton of hay every year.
Now, if you have rented ground on a short-term lease, a perennial may not make any sense so let’s take a look at a few annual options. The first would be to use barley, since it is the most salt tolerant annual available. There are forage types and grain/malting types of barley. Forage types are beardless, taller, and leafier compared to grain varieties. Forage barley makes really nice hay, and compared to oat hay it cures out easier, is more palatable, and is higher in crude protein levels.
Since these areas are generally low-lying and prone to spring flooding, there are years when these areas may not be ready to be planted until June or July. At this point it might be a wise decision to enroll into prevent plant and use a cover crop. For a cover crop, use a mixture that has sorghum sudangrass, radishes, turnips, sunflowers, or rapeseed. These would all have decent tolerance to saline soils and fit that time of planting. These species would help to infiltrate water and have deep tap roots that may also help alleviate compaction.
The bottom line with these acres is that they are killing your bottom line if every year you pour expensive inputs into them, but don’t get a crop. Our cropping systems can be very lucrative over the next few years, and shaving off the money pit acres will only increase per acre farm profitability.
Photos courtesy Millborn Seeds
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Millborn Seeds, Brookings, SD
The team of folks at Millborn Seeds have roots that run deep in farming, agriculture, and in the overall respect for the landscape. They opened their doors in 1987 and continue to walk alongside farmers, ranchers, and landowners across thousands of acres throughout the Midwest.