All Aboard Harvest | Terraces
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Sweetwater, OK — I texted a friend one day with this picture and a caption: “terraces.” He replied, “suck!” 

Emma: Sweetwater terraces

They may not look like much because pictures never do it justice, but they were steep.

Terraces CAN suck. Especially ones like these that are so steep. These are not the steepest terraces I have ever cut on, but I thought they were definitely worthy of their own post. For those of you who don’t really know much about them, they are actually very helpful. They help distribute the water more evenly to the whole field rather than those pesky low spots you can have that collect water. That is basically the job of a terrace. I am not really sure why we don’t see these terraces much north of Nebraska, but I guess that’s the way it is. We cut the terraces out. Meaning, we follow the lay of them following every curve, then cut the wheat that is in between each one and work our way across the field. We do this because we believe we leave too much wheat behind if we strictly just cut up and over them. Some people do it this way, but we prefer to have a field look as best as possible and that means no wheat left in the field.

Be safe and God bless!

All Aboard Wheat Harvest™ is sponsored by High Plains Journal and New Holland Agriculture. Emma can be reached at

  • Dan McGrew, now of North Carolina
    Posted at 09:52h, 22 July

    Having been the field water boy on my pony when crews were building terraces on more than 400 acres for my father in 1938-39-40 and some in ’41 — a few ideas on the subject of terraces as seen from the time when 995 of Oklahoma’s terraces were first surveyed and constructed.
    1] The primary reason for all terracing was stopping the massive “gully” erosion so common before FDR became president.
    2] Terraces are designed to follow “level” contour lines across a slope, 360 degrees around an elevation or in some other configuration.
    — Surveying in all most terraces results in a one or two per cent slope toward a sodded drainage channel, or even directly into a storage tank or farm pond.
    3] The original terraces were constructed with a much more severe slope on both sides and a HIGH, SHARP PEAK. Many farmers in the early days simply sodded those terraces, or “broadcast seeded” small grains, sudan or legumes for foraging livestock after harvest, because they were impossible to till, cultivate or harvest — even with draft teams and wagons harvesting corn by hand.
    In southern regions, they were impossible to cross with wagons, tractors or trucks and equally impossible for workers to drag partially or full cotton sacks over, uphill or downhill.
    4] Gradually over the hills, most farmers smoothed the contoured erosion stoppers into low, round-top configuration allowing equipment to move over, or along the terrace line without huge difficulty.
    Some sodded terraces remain in parts of the south.
    REALITY, probably 90% of Oklahoma’s plowed land was severely eroded in 1934. Western Oklahoma of course suffered greatly from the Dust Bowl, with gully erosion from unchecked downhill water flow during heavy rains.
    Most of the Southeastern United States was equally eroded and “Farmed Out.” There were erosion gullies in several red earth southeastern states deep and wide enough to hide a large barn.
    Much of that southeastern erosion was controlled by planting Kudzu, introduced by a Univ. of Alabama researcher. Kudzu stopped erosion, BUT this incredibly invasive vine has become a major menace to entire counties, engulfing houses, barns, roads, fences, trees.
    The terraces in your photos are clearly difficult for a 40-foot header in front of a high-center of gravity combine, but compared with trying to work along either face with a narrow tread width F-12 or F-20, “popping johnny”, Farmall H or M could be a challenge.
    Some farmers chose the low Ford and Allis-Chalmers tractors because of terraces.
    Hope this helps you understand the genesis and evolution of terraces.
    In 1958-59, I worked with the Lancaster County, Pennsylvania Conservation districts to achieve conservation farming, and surveyed contour planting onto Amish farms.
    With LANCASTER FARMING weekly farm tabloid, I started indirectly promoting the idea of preserve the land of “our fathers” by planting across the slopes and stopping loss of topsoil.
    All prior efforts had focused upon Amish farmers adopting MODERN methods, totally contrary to their PLAIN ethics.
    Most of these pragmatic farmers actually would have liked to switch to contour farming, but could not because of the previous constant push to MODERNIZE.
    Presented as the means to PRESERVE their traditions and PLAIN WAYS ethics — they made the switch across Pennsylvania Dutch country in more than two dozen counties in three states within three years.
    Even the Plain People with their average eight grades of formal education understood erosion losses.