ASK Jeff: The Rodale Institute’s farm manager, Jeff Moyer, answers your hardcore farming questions

Could African farmers use trenches to retain water?

Posted December 14, 2006

What Jeff brings to the table

Jeff Moyer, who’s been the farm manager here at the 333-acre Rodale Institute research farm for more than a quarter of a century, receives lots of mail from farmers just like you asking for advice. Jeff’s hands-in-the-dirt experience over the past 26 years has run the gamut from refining the farm's cover cropping and crop rotation systems (including managing 270 acres in a rotation of corn, small grains, hay, and edible soy beans for a Japanese market) to overseeing The Rodale Institue Farming Systems Trial®, the world’s longest running side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional agriculture. We thought it would be fun and informative to share some of these farmer-to-farmer exchanges, and Jeff’s practical wisdom, with our readers … and we’ll be doing it on a regular basis.

Got a question of your own? Click here to send it to Jeff.

Dear Jeff,

I read a New Farm article recently that mentioned African farmers arranging stone barriers to slow down flowing rainwater. Instead, they might dig trenches on the contour lines to slow down and hold the water in the farm itself. There is big work done in India this way. This method replenishes groundwater as well, which lasts for almost the entire dry season. For more information about this and other innovative techniques being practiced in India, you might want to have a look at Baliraja (, a progressive farming magazine based in Marathi.

Warm regards,
Daniel Reuben

Dear Daniel,

Thanks for the email about the work farmers in India are doing to manage water by digging trenches. We can all learn from each other about what works and what doesn’t across various countries and regions. Some of the work we did in Senegal used the “rock barrier” method because the villagers needed to remove the rocks from the growing areas. Rather than pile them up on the border of the field, we arranged them into contour barriers to help minimize wind and water erosion.

Please continue to send us your insights and ideas so we can share them with others.