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Farming Marginal Lands

It is possible to reclaim poor quality land for agriculture, but care is needed. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

To call land "marginal" means it is not very good. Farmers have their own way to describe it. Marginal land is the last to be planted under good conditions and the first to be avoided when situations are bad.

Low quality soil is not the only reason why land could be considered marginal. The land might be in an area where rainfall is limited. Or it might be on a hillside that rises too sharply.

Yet there are uses for marginal land. Most often it is used as grassland. Grasses provide excellent feed for grazing animals like cattle, sheep and goats.

A farmer might use native grasses or non-native seed. Either way, it is important to establish good ground cover to avoid the loss of soil through erosion.

Forage crops like clover and alfalfa could be planted. These members of the legume family provide high protein food for grazing animals. They also improve the quality of the soil.

Most plants use up nitrogen. But legumes put nitrogen back into the soil. Forage crops also help limit erosion.

But using marginal land for grazing is not as simple as it might sound. There is a risk of overgrazing. Cattle can damage forage crops by eating down to the roots. Also, the animals crush the soil with their weight. That can make the ground too hard for growing.

A way to reduce the damage is to move animals from one field to another. This method is known as rotational grazing. Agricultural experts say rotational grazing is extremely important for marginal land.

Another use for marginal land is for tree crops. Studies have shown that the white pine and loblolly pine are two kinds of trees that grow well on such land. They grow fast and provide good quality wood. Another kind to consider is the poplar. And there are slower-growing trees like the black walnut that provide wood as well as a nut crop.

Trees help support the soil. They reduce the damaging effects of wind and rain. And they can provide grazing animals with shade from the sun.

Marginal lands need care to protect them. Failing to take that care might only make a bad situation worse. But good planning can turn a marginal resource into a highly productive one.

This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by Mario Ritter. Transcripts and MP3 files of our reports are at If you have a question about agriculture, send it to Please tell us your name and where you are from. We might be able to answer your question on our program. I'm Bob Doughty.