The Yeomans Plow

By Greg Ellis | October 15, 2013
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eroded Yeomans plow

On a farm, erosion is the dirtiest word. Thankfully, there are at least a few good practices to stop it in its tracks. In the tool kit of soil and water conservation the little- known Yeomans Plow has a proven track record and is currently making a robust comeback.

A lot has changed in the way land is cultivated since the hard lessons of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. Nowadays, tilling is limited to low-risk times of year and cover crops anchor and protect the soil.

Unfortunately, even the best-tended lands can eventually become compacted by tractor work and the downward force of rain. This compaction inhibits root growth and prevents water from being absorbed into the soil. To break up compacted soils, farmers often employ plows known as “rippers.” Ripping has always been at odds with the risk of erosion. While it is effective at loosening soil and improving root growth, traditional ripping exposes vulnerable topsoil to erosive forces. Exposed soil easily dries up and blows away or is washed away by water.

The Yeomans Plow, designed with inspiration from post–Dust Bowl plows used in Texas and Oklahoma, offers an alternative.

Developed by its namesake P. A. Yeomans, an engineer and farmer from the drylands of Australia, the Yeomans Plow counteracts erosion in two ways. First, the Yeomans Plow does the work of a ripper to loosen compacted soil without substantially disturbing the surface. By keeping the plants on top and the soil underground, the plow protects topsoil.

Secondly, the plow can help capture rainwater and runoff. Farmers know better than anyone that water is sacred. But left to its own devices, water is a lazy thief that takes the closest exit and carries off everything in its way. A technique known as “keylining” utilizes the Yeomans Plow to create deep, narrow cuts on contour, or perpendicular to the direction water would flow. These cuts work in unison to slow, spread and sink water. If placed properly, they can actually shunt water away from eroding gullies and ravines, holding it in the land.

The Yeomans Plow gives a gentle approach to getting the same effect as a ripper, loosening compaction up to three feet deep without risking erosion.

The plow has many side benefits besides its powers of erosion control. It takes less horsepower to pull than a ripper, since work is focused deep underground without unnecessarily turning soil. This makes it easier to pull and reduces fuel consumption, translating to lower costs for the farmer and fewer greenhouse gas emissions for the atmosphere. Leaving soil unturned also helps maintain soil life and builds long-term soil structure. Over time, this improves natural aeration by worms, water absorption and plant health. Of course, this method also helps both rain and irrigation water percolate deeply to the roots where it is needed—while at the same time reducing water loss from evaporation.

Noah Small is just one local farmer putting the Yeomans Plow through its paces. In his 25 years working the land, he has grown everything from market gardens and diversified vegetable crops to seed crops, always organically. He discovered a secondhand Yeomans Plow in Carpinteria in 1996 and immediately fell in love with its ease of use. He has since become the leading local advocate for the plow, introducing it to Tablas Creek Vineyard as well as nearly 30 other local operations of all sorts, from row crops to vineyards.

For more info about the Yeomans Plow contact Noah Small by email at pacificor- ganics@gmail.com or by phone: 805.440.3367.
 

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