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

Islamic State Survivor: A Yazidi Girl's Tale

Sarah Said Haydar, captured a year ago while fleeing Islamic State onslaught in northern Iraq, was so traumatized by militants, she sought to end her own life More

EU, US Applaud Kosovo Law on Special Court

Joint statement says lawmakers' decision to address allegations of war crimes 'demonstrated their commitment to the rule of law and to honor international agreements' More

ASEAN Ministers to Push for S. China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' 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.
Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Tradei
X
Robert Carmichael
August 04, 2015 3:07 PM
Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Trade

Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Growing Number of E. Jerusalem Palestinians Seek Israeli Citizenship

Most Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have long rejected the option of full Israeli citizenship, seeing it as a betrayal to their political cause - the formation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. But as that dream remains elusive, more and more Palestinians are applying for Israeli citizenship. Zlatica Hoke reports the decision is hard for many Palestinians who say they have to be pragmatic about it.
Video

Video With No Money, More Students, African Universities Struggle

Academics from around the African continent converged in Johannesburg last week for the African Universities Summit, a chance to tackle some of the major issues facing higher education in Africa today. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Wisconsin's Voter ID Law Still Mired In Controversy

Voter ID laws have sparked controversy across the US. More than 30 states enacted laws requiring citizens to show identification before they vote. Against fierce opposition, the state of Wisconsin recently enacted one the most restrictive voter ID laws in country. As Jeff Swicord reports, no one can predict its impact as the 2016 election nears.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Hailed as Highly Effective

At last, there's a way to end the suffering from the Ebola epidemic that has ravaged West Africa for more than a year. Researchers say the vaccine is so effective, there may never be a major outbreak of Ebola again. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs