Contour Plowing & Terraces
The Soil Erosion Service was one of the federal programs started in the 1930s to save the land that had been destroyed by years of wind erosion, over plowing, and over grazing. The commission taught farmers how to use terracing and contour plowing techniques to preserve the soil. Federal and state government teamed up with universities that had strong agricultural programs, like the University of Nebraska, to set up demonstration plots and show farmers how to use these soil conservation methods.
Contour plowing was a method of plowing furrows that follow the curves of the land rather than straight up and down slopes. Furrows that run up and down a slope form a channel that can quickly carry away seeds and topsoil. Contour plowing forms ridges, slows the water flow and helps save precious topsoil.
LeRoy Hoffman rented farmland for his entire farming career and remembers when the government urged farmers to change their plowing methods. He says contour plowing created ridges and so the rainwater “wouldn’t just come running clear down that hill.”
Elroy Hoffman says that today there is much less plowing of any kind going on. Going back and forth over the field fewer times saves fuel costs for the farmer and conserves the soil.
Another way to conserve soil was strip cropping – planting crops such as corn, beans, or wheat in strips. In between the strips of crops, farmers sowed plants with dense roots, such as grass or alfalfa. Strip cropping on different levels (terracing) held water and stopped soil from washing away in heavy rain. Other federal programs supported the planting of “cover crops” with dense soil-holding root systems on steeply sloped and erodible land. Even today, you can see areas where farmers use contour plowing, terracing and strip cropping.
Written by Claudia Reinhardt and Bill Ganzel, the Ganzel Group. First written and published in 2003.