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Contour Farming

Contour Farming








Farming in nearly level rows around a hill, as opposed to farming up and down the hill.

How it works

Crop row ridges built by tilling and planting on the contour create hundreds of small dams. These ridges or dams slow water flow and increase infiltration, which reduces erosion.

How it helps

  • Can reduce soil erosion by as much as 50% from uphill/downhill farming
  • Promotes better water quality by reducing sediment and runoff
  • Increases water infiltration

Planning ahead

  • Will more than one key contour line be needed because of steep or irregular slopes?
  • Are terraces or stripcropping needed for steeper slopes?
  • Are field borders needed to replace end rows in the contouring system to control sheet and rill erosion?

Technical notes

  • Contour farming is most effective on slopes between 2% and 10%.
  • Establish a key line around the hill by using a hand level or contour gauge.
  • Contour key line grade should not exceed 2%, except within 100 feet of an outlet. In that case, the grade can be a 3% slope.
  • Perform all tillage and planting operations parallel to the key contour line.
  • Contouring is less effective in preventing soil erosion on steeper or longer slopes.
  • Replace end rows with field borders to reduce erosion.


  • Prevent gully erosion with grassed waterways in areas where runoff is concentrated.
  • Contoured rows should enter the grassed areas of waterways on the level, but should direct water into the grass.

  • To avoid laying out new key contour lines every year, establish a narrow, permanent strip of grass along each key contour line.