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Throw Away the Plow? Why Experts Say Strip Tilling Is Better

From | A huge cloud of dust blew through Lubbock, Texas, in October after months of heat and drought. To some people, it brought back memories of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. That was when dust storms repeatedly struck the Great Plains. Texas state official Salvador Salinas says a return to Dust Bowl conditions is unlikely. SALVADOR SALINAS: "We have come a long way from those days where we had these occurrences as a common occurrence." Experts say one reason for the storms 80 years ago is that plowing was more common back then. In areas where the soil was broken up, it often was blown or washed away. Bram Govaerts has seen the effects of such erosion. He is with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico. BRAM GOVAERTS: "There is a percentage of area in certain states of Mexico where farming is no longer possible because we already eroded those areas." He suggests a different method. BRAM GOVAERTS: "Throwing away the plow. No longer plowing. No movement of soil." In the Texas High Plains, that means farmers cut just a thin strip of soil where the seed and fertilizer go. The rest of the field is left alone, says farmer David Ford. DAVID FORD: "Everything in between these rows is the organic matter left from the wheat straw, and which helps keep the ground covered, reduces soil erosion." Keeping the ground covered helps to protect the land from wind and sun. It also keeps the soil from drying out. Brandt Underwood works with the United States Department of Agriculture. BRANDT UNDERWOOD: "I think it made a huge difference. 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." David Ford says plowing less saves him money. DAVID FORD: "We don't have to burn the fuel that we used to burn. Our equipment will last longer." Bram Govaerts says his center is designing equipment like this hand-operated tiller for farmers. BRAM GOVAERTS: "We want to have machines locally built that the local small businesses also get better from the improved technologies." Research has shown that farmers get as good or better crop production using these methods. They also can save money on production costs. That means, with the age-old tradition of plowing, less really is more. I'm Steve Ember.
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