Protecting Mason County KY Farm Land

Mason County agriculture depends on protecting the topsoil we have today. U(unted) S(tates) D(epartment) of A(griculture) divided land into eight classes.

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Understanding Mason County’s soil is necessary if we are to protect it. USDA published its most recent county-wide survey in 1986. On page 78, it allocates our county’s soil:

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It shows us that in 1986 Mason County only had 1340 acres of land with no risk of erosion. While tobacco and dairy supported long rotations our topsoil was reasonably secure.

The chart below shows that dairy revenue peaked in 1992 and that tobacco peaked in 1997.

Farmers compensated by increasing the amount of corn and soybeans. The chart below shows that harvested row crop land increased from 39,820 acres in 1992 to 55,889 acres in 2017. Our county is subjecting an additional 16,000 acres to row crop erosion yearly.

University of Nebraska research shows three main factors control how much topsoil an acre of row crop loses each year. Those factors are slope, crop residue, and tillage system.

Rowcrop farmers typically move between corn and soybeans. Let’s assume the extra 16,000 acres is 8,000 corn and 8,000 soybeans. Because Mason County planted over 60,000 acres of row crops but has only 31,230 acres of land with less than 6% slope, the additional 16,000 acres must be on steeper slopes.

Based on the Nebraska research, for a typical acre with a 10% slope and no-till practices, corn residue ground will lose seven tons of topsoil per year. A typical soybean residue acre will lose 85 tons of topsoil.

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Our 8,000 acres of corn residue will lose 52,029 tons of topsoil. 8,000 acres of soybean residue will lose another 681,102 tons of soil. In total, even with the best no-till practices 16,000 acres on 10% slope will lose 733,131 Tons of topsoil.

Ohio River cargo barges are 195′ in length and have a capacity of 1,530 tons. If we were going to haul that much soil by barge (instead of washing it down the river), we would need 479 Ohio River cargo barges to move it.

Soil erosion silently steals our land’s ability to support crops. Mason County land can not support current row crop acreage longterm. If we could continue cultivating this corn and soybean acreage for 30 years, we would lose 21 MILLION TONS of topsoil. Mason County does not have that much topsoil now, and with current practices, we have less each year.

If you are inclined to say “oh there is not really any erosion”, answer these questions.

  1. Why is repeated dredging necessary at
    1. Limestone Creek behind the Library 
    2. Washington Recreational Park Lake
    3. Maysville Boat Dock inlet
  2. Why do our county’s creek banks have such steep slopes of topsoil

Mason County can’t sustain our current level of Row Crops