Despite the fact that we have seen a majority of the farmers in West Texas consistently adopting minimum tillage practices into their operations, this winter an almost forgotten trend of old is emerging.
For the first time in a many years, there is a fairly large percentage of growers “breaking out” their breaking plows. Sparked by a multitude of factors like round-up resistant weeds, top soil deterioration from drought, better than recent moisture and cheaper diesel prices, tractors and operators have put in some long hard hours this winter preparing for the next planting season.
You have to appreciate the irony that the technology which enabled farmers to plow less is now one of the factors contributing to producers pulling the “deep” plows out of retirement. I don’t want to overstate what we are witnessing. I don’t think we are going to see a major course correction back to the ways of yesteryear, but I think an important point should not be overlooked.
Not everything our granddads did was right, but it wasn’t all wrong either. Let me say it like this. In general we have made some unbelievable improvements in agriculture. The average farmer is farming more than Dad and lot more than Grandpa. Much of this has been made possible by improved methods and technology. But sometimes history has a way of repeating itself.
Back before man had developed tools that could select the desired plant from the undesirable, farmers were fighting weeds. Matter of fact you don’t have to read very far into the first chapter of the Good Book to see the first reference to man combating weeds. As I like to say in regards to a lot of the struggles we all face, some of them are just “biblical”. Point being Grandpa and his Dad before him had been fighting weeds as long as they had been breathing and they knew one of the ways to prevent weeds from coming up was to bury’em the seed, deep. Also, soil pulled up from down below was tighter and not a prone to sifting and moving. No doubt the best way to increase soil quality is to increase organic matter, but when it doesn’t rain enough in three years to make mud, you’re just not going to have an abundance of organic matter no matter what your method.
From 2010 up until this winter, deep breaking hasn’t really been an option unless you pre-watered to have adequate moisture. We are truly fortunate that growers had made some big improvements leading up to this drought in maintaining organic matter composition or we would have seen even worse conditions than we did.
Do I think we will see a fair amount of breaking for the next few years?... Maybe. This weed problem is serious and farmers are scrambling to find the solutions. Most of the growers I know, are planning on returning to a disciplined yellow herbicide treatment as well. Wonder what other time tested practices may resurface, you certainly have no problem finding work if you are a hoe-hand nowadays.
Let me conclude with this. I walked out on my porch one morning about a month ago right after my neighbor finished breaking his field and I have to admit it stirred memories from the past. The smell and sight of a freshly broke field is more than likely only something a farmer really understands. Technology and innovation may eventually put the breaking plow permanently out to pasture. Only time will tell, but this season a time-tested practice is making a comeback.