Using GIS to Show Soil Erosion and Benefits of Cover Crops

by Ashley Donkersloot
Environmental Science
Faculty advisor: Dr. Melinda Coogan

Iowa is home to some of the most nutrient rich soil in the world.  This nutrient rich topsoil was created by the diverse tall grass prairie that once covered the state.   In the last 150 years, the state has lost nearly half of its nutrient dense topsoil.  Much of this soil has been lost to wind erosion and water drainage from agricultural lands because of agricultural practices that leave soil bare throughout the winter.  The use of winter cover crops, which can be worked into a typical corn and soybean rotation, helps prevent wind and snowmelt erosion.  My research, which was conducted under the direction of the National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, involved creating a database of cover crop species that have been used within the state of Iowa since 1990, in which areas of the state they have been used, and where their implementation has been successful.  This gives specific geographic locations of all the cover crops that have been used within the state and identifies corresponding hardiness zones.  Using this data along with a Geographic Information Systems mapping program allows the state of Iowa to gain greater knowledge of vulnerable soils. In the future, this research could assist farmers throughout the state in becoming more aware of their soil vulnerability and encouraging the use of cover crops on agricultural land to protect and enrich Iowa’s soil.