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One Drop at a Time: Drought resistant farming techniques

LAWTON, Okla._It's no shock the ongoing drought has impacted Southwest Oklahoma farmers tremendously.

As 7News reporter Dylan Stephens continues our month-long series, 'One Drop at a Time', he reports some farmers have turned to alternative techniques to help them get through the crisis.

Most Southwestern Oklahoma farmers have been in this area for generations. This isn't their first fight with a drought, and they know it won't be their last. It's this mindset that has made some farmers look for new ideas, technology or even crops to keep things afloat.

"Our paycheck's out there in the weather and Mother Nature sometimes takes that paycheck away from us," said Jimmy Kemp, an Oklahoma farmer.

Kinder has always tried to stay on the forefront of farming technology and techniques and bring it to his land in Southwest Oklahoma.

"I think the drought has driven technology forward, because in bad times you are looking to find ways to cut costs," says Kinder.

Just by using his smart phone, Kinder can tell just what type of soil he's on. He's looking into drones if they ever get approved by the FAA, and his biggest change was something he's been doing for almost two decades, a method called "no tilling."

“We think our soils are better armored to take a drought because of the extra moisture we are able to capture," said Kinder.

It's a method that Alan Mindemann, a farmer in Apache, also uses. No tilling is where you keep the stalks of your past harvest and plant your new harvest into them without digging them up.

"I grew up on a conventional till farm with my dad, and from the yields back then to the yields now, we are easily twice as productive as we were," said Mindemann.

That's because they are locking in every bit of moisture they can. That's key here in Southwest Oklahoma where the benefits of a wet spring can be depleted by a hot, dry summer.

"We never stop trying, we always assume it's going to rain again," said Mindemann.

But with the hope for rain, they still prepare for the drought and these two have done that by using a technique called 'cover crops,' which has been successful in northern states.

"We are seeing yield increases up there on their cash crops behind that," explained Kinder.

This will be Kinder's second year to plant cover crops, but Mindemann has been planting them for six years, before we were even battling the drought.

"The drought wasn't much of a problem for us. We can still store enough moisture to make a decent wheat crop," said Mindemann.

The idea behind it is to immediately plant a different crop after you harvest. Going against what farmers have learned for years, to rest your soil.

"Fourth-generation farmer, we always thought we need to rest our soil. If you actually look at Mother Nature, she doesn't rest her soil," explained Kinder.

It also goes against the grain, because you don't harvest it. It's planted to die, ultimately playing as mulch for the next harvest.

"There's no immediate benefit, it's a long-term investment into a piece of land," said Mindemann.

With the crops growing during the summer time, it keeps the sun off the soil and keeps it from drying out. The dying crops also feed organisms in the soil, ultimately making it healthier.

"The soil is the basis of everything I do. If I don't take care of the soil, it's not going to take care of me," said Mindemann.

And that's where the benefits finally come in.

"A lot of times, the difference between using a cover crop to keep the soil or not can be the difference between a crop or no crop at all," explained Mindemann.

With higher yields during the drought, these farmers say it can be the difference between a profit or just breaking even, but Kinder says restoring the soil may be more than a change in the pocketbook, but also the drought situation in Southwest Oklahoma.

"Drought breeds drought, and wet brings wet. I think there is something to that. Once we get this drought broken and store some moisture up, I think that we get to keep it here," said Kinder.

Cover crops have worked so well for Mindemann that years where we get significant rain it's allowed him to grow two cash crops instead of just one. For Kinder, it's still a work in progress and he says the trend will catch on when all farmers can find a way make it economically beneficial.

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