In situ Soil moisture conservation techniques

moisture conservation

Storage of rainfall in soil at the place where it falls is termed as “in situ” soil moisture conservation. It aims at increasing infiltration of rainfall into the soil and reducing runoff loss of rainwater. In situ soil moisture conservation can be accomplished through.

• Cultural/agronomic methods

• Mechanical methods

• Agrostological/biological methods

Extent of soil moisture storage from rainfall is influenced quantity and intensity of rainfall, slope, soil properties such as texture, structure, depth, surface characters, presence of subsoil hard pans, rate of infiltration and permeability, water holding capacity, vegetative cover, etc.

1. Cultural /Agronomical methods

(i) Addition of organic matter: By improving soil physical properties and water holding capacity.

(ii) Off season/summer tillage: Plough furrows can hold water in the depressions and thereby increase the infiltration. When done across the slope, the plough furrows check runoff, reduce the velocity of runoff water and improve storage. Summer tillage is a traditional practice helps in the storage of pre-sowing rainfall. When ploughing is done along contour, it is termed as contour ploughing and is more helpful for in situ moisture conservation. Summer ploughing also helps in control of perennial weeds, pest control and enables early sowing with onset of rains.

(iii) Contour farming: Ploughing along the contour and sowing reduce soil erosion and reduce runoff. For e.g., Jowar sown in the black soils on contour line restricts the run off to 13.7% of the total rainfall and soil loss to 2.4 t/ha/year.

(iv) Cover crops: Erosion will be reduced if the land surface is fully covered with foliage. e.g., black gram, green gram, groundnut and fodder grasses like Cenchrus ciliaris, Cenchrus glaucus, dinanath grass, marvel grass. Both contour cropping and cover cropping can be practiced when the slope is less than 2 per cent.

(v) Mixed cropping

(vi) Inter cropping

(vii) Mulching

(viii) Strip cropping: Strip intercropping involves erosion resistant crops and erosion permitting crops in alternate strips of 2–3 m width across slope and along the contour. Erosion resistant crops include grasses and legumes with rapid canopy development. For example, Cenchrus glaucus + Stylosanthes hamata.

2. Mechanical methods The basic principle are:

(i) shaping the land surface manually or with implements in such a way as to reduce the velocity of runoff,

(ii) to allow more time for rainfall to stand on soil surface, and

(iii) to facilitate more infiltration of rainfall into soil layers.

Choice of any particular method under a given situation is influenced by rainfall characters, soil type, crops, sowing methods and slope of land.

(i) Basin listing: Formation of small depressions (basins) of 10–15 cm depth and 10–15 cm width at regular intervals using an implement called basin lister. The small basins collect rainfall and improve its storage. It is usually done before sowing. It is suitable for all soil types and crops.

(ii) Bunding: Formation of narrow based or broad based bunds across slope at suitable intervals depending on slope of field. The bunds check the free flow of runoff water, impound the rainwater in the inter-bund space, increase its infiltration and improve soil moisture storage. Leveling of inter-bund space is essential to ensure uniform spread of water and avoid water stagnation in patches.

It can be classified into three types:

(a) Contour bunding: Bunds of 1 m basal width, 0.5 m top width and 0.5 m height are formed along the contour. The distance between two contour bunds depends on slope. The interbund surface is leveled and used for cropping. It is suitable for deep red soils with slope less than 1%. It is not suitable for heavy black soils with low infiltration where bunds tend to develop cracks on drying. Contour bunds are permanent structures and require technical assistance and heavy investment.

(b) Graded/field bunding: Bunds of 30-45 cm basal width, and 15-20 cm height are formed across slope at suitable intervals of 20-30 m depending on slope. The inter-bund area is leveled and cropped. It is suitable for medium deep-to-deep red soils with slopes up to 1%. It is not suitable for black soils due to susceptibility to cracking and breaching. Bunds can be maintained for 2-3 seasons with reshaping as and when required.

(c) Compartmental bunding: Small bunds of 15 cm width and 15 cm height are formed in both directions (along and across slope) to divide the field into small basins or compartments of 40 sq. m. size (8 × 5 m). It is suitable for red soils and black soils with a slope of 0.5-1%. The bunds can be formed before sowing or immediately after sowing with local wooden plough. It is highly suitable for broadcast sown crops. CRIDA has recommended this method as the best in situ soil moisture conservation measure for Kovilpatti region of Tamil Nadu. Maize, sunflower, sorghum performs well in this type of bunding.

(iii) Ridges and furrows: Furrows of 30-45 cm width and 15-20 cm height are formed across slope. The furrows guide runoff water safely when rainfall intensity is high and avoid water stagnation. They collect and store water when rainfall intensity is less. It is suitable for medium deep-todeep black soils and deep red soils. It can be practiced in wide row spaced crops like cotton, maize, chillies, tomato etc. It is not suitable for shallow red soils, shallow black soils and sandy/ gravelly soils. It is not suitable for broadcast sown crops and for crops sown at closer row spacing less than 30 cm. Since furrows are formed usually before sowing, sowing by dibbling or planting alone is possible. Tie ridging is a modification of the above system of ridges and furrows where in the ridges are connected or tied by a small bund at 2–3 m interval along the furrows. Random tie ridging is another modification where discontinuous furrows of 20–25 cm width, 45–60 cm length and 15 cm depth are formed between clumps or hills of crops at the time of weeding. Yet another modification of ridges and furrows method is the practice of sowing in lines on flat beds and formation of furrows between crop rows at 25–30 DAS. This enables sowing behind plough or through seed drill.

(iv) Broad Bed Furrow (BBF): Here beds of 1.5 m width, 15 cm height and convenient length are formed, separated by furrows of 30 cm width and 15 cm depth. Crops are sown on the beds at required intervals. It is suitable for heavy black soils and deep red soils. The furrows have a gradient of 0.6%. Broad bed furrow has many advantages over other methods.

• It can accommodate a wide range of crop geometry i.e., close as well as wide row spacing.

• It is suitable for both sole cropping and intercropping systems.

• Furrows serve to safely guide runoff water in the early part of rainy season and store rainwater in the later stages.

• Sowing can be done with seed drills.

• It can be formed by bullock drawn or tractor drawn implements. Bed former cum seed drill enables BBF formation and sowing simultaneously, thus reducing the delay between rainfall receipts and sowing.

(v) Dead furrow– At the time of sowing or immediately after sowing, deep furrows of 20 cm depth are formed at intervals of 6–8 rows of crops. No crop is raised in the furrow. Sowing and furrowing are done across slope. It can be done with wooden plough in both black and red soils.

3. Agrostological methods

The use of grasses to control soil erosion, reduce run off and improve soil moisture storage constitutes the agrostological method. Grasses with their close canopy cover over soil surface and profuse root system, which binds soil particles, provide excellent protection against runoff and erosion. The following are the various agrostological methods of in situ moisture conservation.

(i) Pastures/grass lands: Raising perennial grasses to establish pastures or grass lands is recommended for shallow gravelly, eroded, degraded soils. Grass canopy intercepts rainfall, reduces splash erosion, checks runoff and improves soil moisture storage from rainfall.

(ii) Strip cropping with grasses: Alternate strips of grasses and annual field crops arranged across slope check runoff and erosion and help in increasing moisture storage in soil.

(iii) Ley farming: It is the practice of growing fodder grasses and legumes and annual crops in rotation. Grasses and legumes like Cenchrus, stylo are grown for 3–5 years and followed by annual crops like sorghum for 2 year. When the field is under grasses or legumes, soil moisture conservation is improved.

(iv) Vegetative barriers: Vegetative barrier consists of one or two rows of perennial grasses established at suitable interval across the slope and along the contour. It serves as a block to free runoff and soil transport. Vetiver, Cenchrus etc., are suitable grasses. Vetiver can be planted in rows at intervals of 40 m in 0.5% slope. Plough furrows are opened with disc plough first before commencement of monsoon. 5–8 cm deep holes are formed at 20 cm interval and two slips per hole are planted in the beginning of rainy season. The soil around the roots is compacted. Vetiver barriers check runoff and prevent soil erosion. While they retain the soil, they allow excess runoff to flow through their canopy without soil loss. It is adapted to drought and requires less care for maintenance. It does not exhibit any border effect on crops in adjacent rows. It allows uniform spread of water to lower area in the field resulting in uniform plant stand thus increasing yield of a crop by 10–15%. It facilitates better storage of soil moisture. If fodder grasses like Cenchrus glaucus or marvel grass are used, fodder can also be harvested and given to the animal. Vegetative barriers are best suited for black soil. Unlike contour bunding, which gives way due to development of crack in summer in black soils, vegetative barriers do not allow such phenomenon in black soil. Hence, the vegetative barriers can be effectively maintained in black soil for 4–5 years. After 4–5 years, replanting material can also be had from the old barrier by ‘quartering’.

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