Dust bowl memories

The history of Great Plains manifest destiny is an important story of agricultural hubris, how refined methods from the eastern US were put into place on new homesteads only to result in the destruction of much farm land and lifestyles. Deep plowing, harrowing and straight furrows were all hallmarks of fine farming methods in the early 1800’s, all perfected in the Piedmont region and southern plantations. Unfortunately, these techniques were ill suited to the soil and weather conditions of the Great Plains. The tallgrass prairies were firmly in place due to the root action of the various plants growing there over the centuries, locking down the much finer soil of the Plains. Once disturbed by deep plowing, harrowing and furrows oriented with the winds, the soil was involuntarily migrated away from the region by the action of winds and water. Decades of these practices found their ultimate disaster in the Dust Bowl days of the early 1900’s.

ISO 100, 108mm. 0.4 sec., f/18, EV+1

Much has been learned since that epic time in our history.  One of the best practices introduced is no-till planting, a technique that minimally disturbs the soil while placing seeds down for optimal germination.  There are variations on no-till and looking across different fields shows the range from crops growing among last  year’s harvest to minimal furrows to control water movement.  The image above shows the latter, where the furrows are only 2-3″ deep and are contoured along the terrain to minimize water movement downhill.

Driving by these fields in the spring it’s hard to tell “are they getting ready to plant yet?” because the fields look pretty much like they do in the fall after harvest.  Sometime you can only tell planting has taken place when the young corn sprouts appear, as in the image above.  You know spring is definitely here when these show up!  And it never ceases to amaze me how fast these little sprouts turn into 6′ tall corn stalks waving in the summer breeze.


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