Contour Farming

By: Mynia Snyder & Emilee Wooten

What is Contour Farming?

Contour farming is the practice of tilling sloped land among lines of consistent elevation in order to conserve rainwater and to reduce soil losses from surface erosion.

How widely is it practiced?

Contour farming was first developed by the Phoenicians and spread throughout the Mediterranean. In present day, it is widely used by the US Soil Conservation Service, which was implemented in 1935, during the Dust Boil when it became apparent that soil erosion was a huge problem. Contour plowing is promoted in countries with similar rainfall patterns to the United States like Canada, United Kingdom and Australia.

Advantages and Disadvantages:

  • reduces soil erosion up to 50% from up and down hill farming
  • reduces sediment and runoff
  • increases water infiltration, which promotes better water quality
  • Contour Stripcropping (used in longer and steeper slopes) reduces fertilizer costs by provident nutrient inputs naturally


  • not suitable for lands with heavy overland flows unless these flows can be diverted to safe outlets
  • curved rows are impractical for some farm machinery or for drip tape installation (allows water to drip slowly to the roots)

Is Contour Farming popular?

Contour farming has been practiced in different parts of the world for centuries, however it has not become popular in the United States. Due to the United States' flat terrain, it is not commonly used. It is mainly used in London, England, due to unevenness of the terrain.

Steps to implementing Contour Farming:

  1. Take a topographic survey of the field
  2. Layout a baseline contour with markers, with an untilled crop row parallel to it
  3. Prepare field borders to allow room for farm implements to turn
  4. Perform all farming activities parallel to baseline contour