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California farmers urged to leave unplanted fields 'roughed up'

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Farmers in drought areas should leave fallow fields in rough condition, USDA said.
Farmers in drought areas should leave fallow fields in rough condition, USDA said.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is encouraging farmers in drought-stricken parts of California to leave their unplanted fields in a "roughed up" condition to prevent devastating soil loss due to wind erosion.

Portions of the state have been experiencing drought conditions for more than two years and are currently classified by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska as experiencing "severe" or "extreme" drought.

To prevent soil loss due to wind erosion, NRCS said that farmers can use tilling implements to create ridge lines perpendicular to the direction wind blows. Farmers can also protect topsoil by leaving crop residue and weeds after the last harvest.

"Fields continually subjected to erosion may result in land that is incapable of returning to cropping or vegetative systems at a later date," said Rita Bickel, an agronomist with the NRCS in Davis, California.

Bickel also advised compacting unpaved farm roads, avoiding plowing noxious weeds until enough moisture builds up to form stable clods and stabilizing farm equipment lots, corrals and ditch banks not protected by vegetation.

The soil loss prevented by these measures could be as great as 250 tons per acre a year in areas of severe drought, NRCS said.

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