The plow is at the heart of farming. Yet more and more farmers are finding a different approach can be good for the soil and good for their bottom line. David Montgomery is a geologist at the University of Washington and he says the plow has, over time, caused a good deal of damage to the environment, ”Long term reliance on the plow has not only degraded organic soil matter but has resulted in the loss of soil off some very large portions of land around the world.” He admits the plow has had some benefits in weed reduction and increased yields but feels long term the negatives outweigh the positives.
Yet the damage is not irreversible. Montgomery told HAT he has visited farmers around the world where farmers are rebuilding their soil health, ”There was a simple set of principles being used by the farmers I visited who were successful in improving their soil, ditch the plow, use cover crops, and growing a greater diversity of crops.” He added the farmers who were able to improve their soil health saw increases in productivity and profitability, “They reduced their cost of diesel, fertilizer, and pesticide. They were more profitable than their more conventional neighbors.”
Montgomery, is not advocating a non-technical approach to agriculture but combining technology and ecology in a way that is productive and profitable, “In our modern world we need a small number of farmers feeding a large number of people and for that we need technology. It is a matter of getting modern technology in line with anchent wisdom. The common element is building soil health.” He said it all starts with looking at farming in a new way. A way that considers the environment as well as economics.
Mongonery has published a new book “Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life. It is described as a s a good-news environment story. The new book weaves a travelogue with history and science to tell of visits to farms in North and South Dakota, site of the famous Dust Bowl, as well as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Africa and Costa Rica. These farmers use technology ranging from hand-powered machetes to enormous modern no-till seeding machines. Seeing approaches that worked in very different situations, Montgomery sought out the common ground for building fertile soil as a consequence of farming.