News / USA

Farmers Urged to Throw Plow Away

Minimal tillage makes a difference in dry areas

Multimedia

Audio

Since the dawn of agriculture, tilling the soil has been fundamental to farming.

But today, experts say this age-old practice may do more harm than good, at least in some places. That's why they've been telling farmers to throw away the plow.

Kicking up dust

An enormous cloud of dust two kilometers high blew through Lubbock, Texas this October, after months of record-breaking drought and heat.

It brought back memories of the 1930s Dust Bowl era, when the region was devastated by frequent, severe dust storms.

Millions fled as their livelihoods blew away. One reason dust storms were more common in the 1930s, experts say, is that plowing was more common back then.

In the 1930s, the once-fertile Great Plains turned into the Dust Bowl after generations of plows broke up the soil.
In the 1930s, the once-fertile Great Plains turned into the Dust Bowl after generations of plows broke up the soil.

But while last month’s storm was severe, a return to the Dust Bowl days is unlikely.

"We have come a long way from those days where we had these kinds of occurrences as a common occurrence," says Texas state conservation chief Salvador Salinas.

'Throw away the plow'

For generations, plows carved up the soils of the Texas High Plains, as they do the world over. Turning the soil controls weeds and prepares the land for planting. But tilled earth erodes more easily in the wind and rain.

Bram Govaerts has seen the impacts of erosion in Mexico, where he heads the conservation agriculture program at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.

“There is a percentage of area in certain states of Mexico where farming is no longer possible because we already eroded those areas,” Govaerts says, suggesting a different approach. "Throwing away the plow. No longer plowing. No movement of soil."

Reducing soil erosion

Farmers in the Texas High Plains till just a strip of soil where the seed and fertilizer go. The rest is left alone. And the stalks and leaves they used to till under, are now left behind, says farmer David Ford.

“Everything in between these rows is the organic matter left from the wheat straw, which helps keep the ground covered, reduces soil erosion.”

Farmers in the Texas High Plains till just a strip of soil where the seed and fertilizer go. The rest is left alone.
Farmers in the Texas High Plains till just a strip of soil where the seed and fertilizer go. The rest is left alone.

Keeping the ground covered helps shield the precious soil from wind and sun, and keeps moisture from evaporating. In this year’s extreme drought and heat, minimal tillage and maximum cover made a big difference, says Brandt Underwood, an agronomist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“It’s my opinion that the strip till system right here and the residue management is what’s enabled David to produce this kind of corn crop in this drought-type year.”

Added benefit

Plowing less also saves money.

“We don’t have to burn the fuel that we used to burn," says Ford, the farmer. "Our equipment will last longer.”

And it’s not just for big American farms. Bram Govaerts says his agency is helping design equipment for small farmers in developing countries, too.

“We want to have machines locally built so that the local small businesses also get better from the improved technologies.”

Research shows farmers get as good or better yields using these methods while saving money on their production costs. That means when it comes to the age-old practice of plowing, less really is more.

You May Like

Reports of Mass Murder on Mediterranean Smuggler’s Boat

Boat sailed from Libya with 750 migrants aboard and arrived in Italy with 569 More

Video New Thailand Hotline Targets Misbehaving Monks

Officials say move aims to restore country’s image of Buddhism, tarnished by recent high profile scandals such as opulent lifestyle, drug and alcohol abuse, as well as child sex abuse More

Study: Dust from Sahara Helped Form Bahama Islands

What does the Sahara have in common with a Caribbean island? Quite a lot, researchers say More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train in Underwater Labi
X
George Putic
July 25, 2014 7:25 PM
In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid