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

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Video Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus 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.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid