College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Helmers: Delayed harvest is slowing some land-improvement work

Bruce Barnhart is still playing catch up on land improvement work in his fields before winter starts.

Barnhart, owner of Barnhart’s Custom Services, says there was very little winter land improvement done this past year due to the extremely cold weather. They started doing some of the winter work at the end of March. Then, the wet spring postponed work as farmers started planting. And, after the late start, some of the large rain events in May and June did damage to land-improvement projects.

“We have been behind all year,” Barnhart says.

Matt Helmers, Iowa State University associate professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering, notes the delayed harvest is slowing some land-improvement work from being completed.

“I recently drove to South Dakota, there is still a lot of corn standing in the field in the countryside,” he says.

Last year, weather conditions during the second week of November stopped any further land improvement work, Helmers says. Contractors have been able to get some work done this fall, like building or repairing of waterways in soybean fields.

Barnhart explains weather conditions in fall of 2013 didn’t allow for grass seed to get a good start before winter. That meant some of the projects completed last year washed away with no grass to hold the soil in place. Barnhart says farmers are getting waterways repaired or installing more of them this fall. Despite the lower crop prices, Barnhart says interest among farmers in field drainage remains strong for now.

“I suspect things will slow down a little,” he says.

“I don’t think we have the backlog as we have had in the past few years,” Helmers adds.

Farmers are still looking for ways to increase yield. He says the more frequent, large rain events have also generated interested in drainage. Looking ahead for the industry, Barnhart says the outlook for land improvement looks strong as farmers deal with conservation compliance and reducing nutrients in the water supply.

Helmers says there seems to be interest among farmers in installing buffers and bioreactors as tools to reduce the amount of nutrients in the water supply. He says private industry is bringing technology to the planning process for land improvement projects. That new technology makes it easier and faster to develop land improvement plans for projects the farmers are paying for without the help of government cost-share funds.

The story first appeared here.