Andrea Basche

As “500-year floods” are becoming the new normal for the Cornhusker State, one University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor has new research that indicates which agricultural practices are best for helping soils soak up precipitation, according to Nebraska Today.

Andrea Basche, assistant professor of agronomy and horticulture, compiled the results of 89 studies done across six continents that tested the effects of five different agricultural practices on the rate of water absorption. According to Nebraska Today, the practices which offered continuous roots to the soil were most successful in absorbing water.

Planting perennials, such as trees and grasses, was found to be the most effective of the methods tested and increased the rate of water absorption by an average of 59%, according to Nebraska Today. Cover crops, planted to restore soil nutrients and combat erosion, were also found to be effective, improving water absorption by 35%.

No-till farming had negligible effects on soil absorption, despite being praised as a method that can increase water absorption, the article said. Basche told Nebraska Today this discovery was surprising.

“Very commonly, you hear people talk about how important no-till is to increasing [water] infiltration,” she said. “There were some environments and management combinations where no-till led to an increase in infiltration, but on average, that’s not what we found.”

Crop rotation was also found to have negligible effects on soil absorption, while allowing livestock to graze on cropland actually reduced water infiltration in the soil by an average of 21%, according to the article. 

Basche said demonstrating the feasibility and value of soil-friendly practices to farmers and ranchers is a challenge.

“Ultimately, with anything that we do research on in agriculture, it has to work on the farm,” she said. “We have to figure out how to do it and how to make it economically sustainable, too.”