What is CONTOUR PLOWING? What does CONTOUR PLOWING mean? CONTOUR PLOWING meaning & explanation


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Source: Wikipedia.org article, adapted under license.

Contour plowing or contour farming or Contour bunding is the farming practice of plowing and/or planting across a slope following its elevation contour lines. These contour lines create a water break which reduces the formation of rills and gullies during times of heavy water run-off; which is a major cause of soil erosion. The water break also allows more time for the water to settle into the soil. In contour plowing, the ruts made by the plow run perpendicular rather than parallel to slopes, generally resulting in furrows that curve around the land and are level. This method is also known for preventing tillage erosion. Tillage erosion is the soil movement and erosion by tilling a given plot of land. A similar practice is contour bunding where stones are placed around the contours of slopes.

Soil erosion prevention practices such as this can drastically decrease negative affects associated with soil erosion such as reduced crop productivity, worsened water quality, lower effective reservoir water levels, flooding, and habitat destruction. Contour farming is considered an active form of sustainable agriculture.

The Phoenicians first developed the practice of contour farming and spread it throughout the Mediterranean. However, the Romans preferred cultivation in straight furrows and this practice became standard.

In recent years, contour farming systems are considered as field and farm practices to build climate-smart agriculture as they improve water-use efficiency and conservation.

This was one of the main procedures promoted by the US Soil Conservation Service (the current Natural Resources Conservation Service) during the 1930s. The US Department of Agriculture established the Soil Conservation Service in 1935 during the Dust Bowl when it became apparent that soil erosion was a huge problem along with desertification.

The extent of the problem was such that the 1934 “Yearbook of Agriculture” noted that Approximately 35 million acres of formerly cultivated land have essentially been destroyed for crop production. . . . 100 million acres now in crops have lost all or most of the topsoil; 125 million acres of land now in crops are rapidly losing topsoil. This can lead to large scale desertification which can permanently transform a formerly productive landscape to an arid one that becomes increasingly intensive and expensive to farm.

The Soil Conservation Service worked with state governments and universities with established agriculture programs such as the University of Nebraska to promote the method to farmers. By 1938, the introduction of new agricultural techniques such as contour plowing had reduced the loss of soil by 65% despite the continuation of the drought.

Demonstrations showed that contour farming, under ideal conditions, will increase yields of row crops by up to 50%, with increases of between 5 and 10% being common. Importantly, the technique also significantly reduces soil erosion, fertilizer loss, and overall makes farming less energy and resource intensive under most circumstances. Reducing fertilizer loss not only saves the farmer time and money, but it also decreases risk of harming regional freshwater systems. Soil erosion caused from heavy rain can encourage the development of rills and gullies which carry excess nutrients into freshwater systems through the process of eutrophication

Contour plowing is also promoted in countries with similar rainfall patterns to the United States such as western Canada and Australia.

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