Land Clearing and Soil Preparation: How Farmers
Prepare the Land  in No-Till Corn Farming  

1. Land clearing and Soil preparation - These farmers practice zero tillage, a necessary requisite of no till farming in which crops are grown without cultivating the soil. In conventional farming the land is prepared by plowing and harrowing using animal- or tractor-drawn implements, but in this farming community the practice has drastically waned and is getting close to becoming extinct in favor of no-till farming.

Here are how they practice land clearing in preparation for the planting of glyphosate-resistant corn in sloping cogonal lands:

a. Weed slashing - The area to be planted with corn is first slashed either partially or entirely. Tools which are deemed essential to this land clearing operation are the bolo with thin blade curved towards the tip (we call this bolo lagaraw) and an arm’s-length segment of a tree stem with a short stub of a branch at the tip and with thickness just enough to be grasped by one hand (a sort of single-pronged wooden rake which we call kaw-it). Slashing always starts from below and proceeds upward.

Land clearing is the first step in no-till corn farmingLand preparation for the growing of corn starts with slashing and the cutting of shrubs

With the kaw-it held by one hand (the left hand if right-handed), a tuft of weeds is moved sideways to expose the bases while the slasher-bolo is held by the other hand to cut the weeds as close as possible to the ground.  Immediately, the cut weeds are moved farther to the left with more sideward movement of the kaw-it and the process is repeated.

In one occasion,  four skilled slashers cleared a hectare of a sloping cogonal land in two days, equivalent to a labor cost of 8 man-days. 

But where the cogon grasses are mature with dry leaves and there is an intention to contain the fire, the usual practice is to slash only the peripheries wide enough to serve as firebreak. Streams and creeks which are devoid of combustible materials serve as natural firebreaks. If there are standing crops, like coconut with low-lying fronds, the immediate surrounding of each crop is likewise slashed.

b. Raking - Immediately after slashing or just before planting of corn, the firebreaks are cleared of cut weeds and other combustible materials. This can be done with the use of the common rake but the farmers rather use indigenous materials such as the kaw-it and  bamboo culms with one or two short stubs of branches at the tip (like an improvised fork). 

Likewise, cut weeds are moved away from the bases of coconut or other standing crops to prevent injury to the plants during burning. 

c. Burning - This is done during dry, sunny days. Burning, despite various raised concerns, is a conveneient, fast, and inexpensive practice that marginal farmers are used to in land clearing. It is usually commenced starting from low elevation at a time of the day when there is wind. As the burning progresses, the farmer is always alert to contain the fire to prevent damage to standing crops and to prevent the fire creeping outside of the intended area to be burned.  

d. Spraying herbicide - A day after burning, the area may be planted to corn. However, if the same area had thick growth of cogon and has not been cultivated before, the farmer applies herbicide to further reduce root mass and ensuing growth of weeds. A week or two are commonly allowed to pass until the grass weeds have regrown and then herbicide is sprayed.

Adopting the above into an approximately one-hectare portion of our farm, land preparation was completed in two weeks. The activities included blanket slashing, raking, burning, and herbicide spraying. Labor requirement was as follows: slashing- 8 man-days (MD), raking- 2 MD, burning- 1 MD, and herbicide spray- 1 MD for a total of 12 MD.

(Ben G. Bareja, July 2014)

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