Dryland Farming in the Semi-Arid High Plains
EDITED AND ANIMATED BY PIER GIORGIO PROVENZANO
The Lexicon collaborates with DrylandAg.org and Colorado State University’s Department of Soil and Crop Sciences to examine new farming practices in the Semi-Arid High Plains, one of America’s driest farming regions.
Nearly 75 years ago, the Dust Bowl showed farmers the dangers of leaving soil bare. Today, most farmers here grow cycles of wheat and fallow, essentially resting their soil for an entire year after each harvest to give it time to collect enough rainwater to produce another crop. But fallow requires leaving the soil without a growing crop for up to 14 months at a time. If it is tilled, that bare soil is subject to both wind and water erosion, and loses 75% of its water storage to evaporation and weeds.
A growing number of dryland farmers are searching for more resilient ways to farm. Some of their new approaches were inspired by the water-use strategies of the shortgrass prairie. They use crop rotations to enhance diversity, plant cover crops to keep the soil covered and increase soil organic matter, integrate livestock into their cropping systems, and apply no-till farming practices.
Participants in the project include Gary Peterson, a retired CSU soil scientist; USDA Research Ecologist David Augustine; Lucretia Sherrod, Soil Scientist with USDA ARS; and Nolan Doesken, State Climatologist for Colorado. Dryland farmers in Northern Colorado and Nebraska include Cole Mertens, Steve Tucker, John Heerman and Curt Sayles.