Erosion is the ultimate enemy of soil

Erosion is the ultimate enemy of soil
John Lorson

Soil deposited in the snow drift at the edge of the field is as good as gone. When the drift melts, it’s headed to the stream, completing a trifecta of ice, wind and water erosion.


As I write this column, our neck of the woods is a frozen, windblown tundra. A phenomenon dubbed the “Polar Vortex” has descended upon the land, and by the time you read this, we will have seen temperatures well below zero accompanied by wind gusts up to 40 mph.

Not to worry though, next week’s forecast takes us well into the 40s. Up and down, freeze and thaw, three seasons in a single week.

That’s winter in Ohio. One thing is for sure: Ohio’s ever-changing weather affords us plenty of “teachable moments” on the ultimate enemy of soil: erosion, whether by water, wind or ice.

Most of the time we don’t think of the action of ice when we consider erosion, but frankly it was ice that brought much of our soil here in the first place as glaciers pushed down into our area from what is now Canada thousands of years ago.

That’s the “classic” version of erosion by ice: billions of tons of ice bull-dozing everything in its path over vast periods of time. But ice acts on a “micro” level too and jumpstarts the erosion cycle every time the soil freezes and thaws.

Few forces in nature are more capable of busting up geology than the freeze and thaw of water. Water expands when it freezes, and many of us have learned the hard way that this expansion is unstoppable. That gallon jug of water I left out near the rabbit cage looks like it drank another gallon and exploded.

That same force busts soil into its smallest denominators, and when soil is busted up — especially when left uncovered — it is ripe for erosion.

As you venture out into the snow after a good blow like we’ve had recently, pay attention to the drifts you’ll find on the edges of fields. Look closely and you’ll often find a tan or brown haze across the drift.

If you happen to be near an uncovered or, worse yet, a fall-tilled field, you won’t need to look very hard to find evidence of wind erosion.

Wind erosion works in double-action. Not only does it carry off fine soil particles, but it also uses those particles to cause even more erosion through abrasive force.

Soil deposited in the snow drift at the edge of the field is as good as gone. When the drift melts, it’s headed to the stream, completing a trifecta of ice, wind and water erosion.

There are many things you can do to combat such soil loss. Keeping fields covered throughout the winter should be an obvious first step, but busting up the velocity of wind also is an outstanding strategy.

Nothing works better than a vegetative windbreak to interrupt the flow of wind across the land.

Plantings of shrubs, trees and other thick-growing flora along the north and west edges of fields will pay dividends, not only in preserving precious soil, but also in creating wildlife and pollinator habitat.

Winter is a great time of year to strategize on beating erosion the next time around. Take a trip around your fields while there is still snow on the ground and note where the drifts are forming and falling.

Is there something unique about the topography of your place that makes it especially susceptible to the forces of wind? If so, consider a planting to combat those forces.

Give us a call at Holmes Soil & Water and we’ll do our best to help you out. Call Holmes SWCD at 330-674-2811.

On a related note, our annual Tree Seedling Sale is under way now with delivery slated for early April. Check out our website at for details.

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