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“Mow-Plow” Tillage--The Best of Both Worlds

By Kathryn Barry Stelljes
June 18, 1997

A new tillage technique combines the best of conventional and conservation tillage techniques to control both weeds and erosion on wheat fields in the Pacific Northwest.

With the new “mow-plow” method, a standard moldboard plow, pulled by a tractor, deeply tills the soil and buries weed seeds so they don’t sprout. But soil-protecting stems, stalks and other residue from a previous crop don’t get buried. That’s because of a modified combine header attached to the front of the tractor. The header cuts and lifts the old stubble that lies in the plow’s path and dumps it on the adjacent, freshly plowed furrow. There it blankets the soil, shielding it from the erosive forces of wind and rain.

Scientists with the Agricultural Research Service developed the mow-plow method for use in the 4.5-million-acre wheat-growing region of Washington, Oregon and Idaho. This region receives little rainfall. Land is left fallow every other year to collect water for the next year’s wheat crop. But the soil freezes during winter, when rain and melting snow often can’t soak into the soil. Instead, the water threatens to wash away the soil--up to 150 tons an acre. Normally, farmers leave crop residue on the field as long as possible, but weeds can take over during the fallow year.

The ARS scientists are based at the agency’s Columbia Plateau Conservation Research Center in Pendleton, Ore. An article about the mow-plow method and the scientists’ related research to reduce erosion appears in the June issue of Agricultural Research magazine. The magazine can be viewed on the World Wide Web at:


Scientific contact: Dale E. Wilkins, USDA-ARS Columbia Plateau Conservation Research Center, PO Box 370, Pendleton, Ore., phone (541) 278-3292, fax (541) 278-3795,