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

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology 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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More