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Farmers suggest dust storm solution

LOYAL, Okla. — More than a dozen people were injured Thursday during a catastrophic dust storm in northern Oklahoma.

It kicked up enough topsoil to blind drivers on I-35.

Now in the third year of drought across the central plains of the U.S., farmers are taking a second look at a conservationist method of farming, no till.

Clay Pope, the director of the Oklahoma Association of Conservationist Districts, believes no-till farming can save the soil, prevent erosion and curb dust storms.

“What we saw Thursday I think should serve as a reminder that we can’t turn our back on conservation,” Pope said. “By mid-century we’re going to have 9 billion people that we’ve got to feed. You’ve got to make sure you keep this resource in place.”

The idea behind no-till farming is that you leave the soil alone after harvest, instead of tilling up the residual crop, allowing the roots to mature under ground, lock in moisture and protect the top soil from the ferocious wind.

No-till farming has been slow to take root in Oklahoma.

No-till farmers said their method is particularly effective in years of drought because moisture stays underground instead of being tilled to the surface where water is evaporated.

Proponents said the moisture saved by no-till farming is equivalent to an additional two to three inches of rain.

There are downsides.

It is expensive to convert your farm to a no-till solution.

Farmers with large farms can spend as much as $250,000 purchasing the equipment for start-up.

No-till farming also requires farmers to pay more attention to crop rotation and chemicals or ground cover to control weeds.

“It’s a little different; it’s a challenge but it is something you’re seeing adopted more and more in Oklahoma,” Pope said.

Only about 20 percent of Oklahoma farmers use the no-till method.

Get more information on no-till farming here:

No till information from Oklahoma State University

OSU Research: Economic impact of no till farming

Oklahoma Food and Forestry Department

Oklahoma Agriculture Blog