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I would assume hilly land is more labor-intensive to farm than flat land, and more exhausting to humans and animals if traditional farming techniques are used.

How do farmers plant and plow on uneven terrain? And do the furrows on a hill run uphill-downhill, or “horizontally stacked” up the hill’s incline?

Edit: I see why sloped land is more conducive to other kinds of agriculture. Any idea how steep a grade has to be before farming grain on it is more trouble than it’s worth?

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  • $\begingroup$ WRT your edit, my personal experience (from a couple of seasons of plowing wheat fields in the California foothils) is that about a 20 degree slope is the max. The problem is that if you try to maintain a level contour, you run the risk of your tractor tipping over. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Oct 17 at 4:33
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Terrace farming is widespread in the Orient but it is backbreakingly labour intensive. In UK we don't do it, partly because we don't grow our own rice. Depending on how steep the hill is, we either plough it or use it for grazing. A shallow incline can be ploughed, but you have to be very careful how you do it. Many accidents are caused each year by tractors overturning. This is most likely when you are contouring, i.e sideways to the slope. In a few areas, mainly in Scotland, hills where there is plenty of heather are sometimes used for game preservation and grouse shooting. Another use for hills is forestry, but there is not a lot of forestry in UK.

If there are extensive steep hills on your land, the usual solution is to use them for grazing, which is why there are so many sheep farmers in Wales and other hilly areas. If it's just one steep hill on land which is otherwise fairly level, some farmers leave it to nature rather than risk a nasty accident. So the answer to your question is that hilly land is more labour intensive in the Orient and some similar areas of the world, but not in most of Europe. Furrows generally run up and down hill unless the farmer is confident he can plough transversely without risk of overturning.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for welsh hill farming = sheep. $\endgroup$ – user3445853 Oct 15 at 10:36
  • $\begingroup$ Terraces are not only used to grow rice. In Portugal, they're world-famously used for growing wine - but they're used for any crops (maize, cabbages, olive oil, etc). The northern regions of Portugal are hilly, and there is not much flat land; still, the people need food; and terraces were a natural way to cultivate sloped lands avoiding the erosion gullies that Fred mentions in their answer. $\endgroup$ – ANeves Oct 16 at 9:46
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    $\begingroup$ And in all the Mediterranean basin. A century ago, terraces extended to most of the now forested hills in Catalonia. They were abandoned with mechanisation because tractors can't work on terraces. $\endgroup$ – Pere Oct 16 at 19:58
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The way hillsides are farmed generally depends on the steepness of the hillside. Gentle slopes can be farmed the same way flat land is farmed.

Steeper slops require the hillside to be divided into terraces. The steeper the slope, the narrower the terraces.

Terracing of hillsides in farming reduces erosion because terraces reduce the flow rate of water down the hill. Furrows running down slope can easily transform into erosion gullies.

Terrace farming has been all over the world and for thousands of years. It is speculated that the Hanging Gardens of Babylon,

may have been built on an artificial mountain with stepped terraces, such as those on a ziggurat.

Slopes in the Andes of South America were terrace mining before AD 1000.

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    $\begingroup$ For terraces, don't forget the iconic rice paddies in Asia, from Indonesia to Vietnam. $\endgroup$ – user3445853 Oct 15 at 10:35
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Some people use swales on hillsides for farming. Swales are basically a trench that runs along contour lines of a slope and is used to slow water runoff and increase infiltration into the ground. They're good for growing things like fruit trees, berry bushes and grape vines. Once one is created it usually doesn't take a ton of work to maintain.

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It entirely depends on what crops you're farming. Note for example how many vineyards (especially European ones, from my observation) are located on steep hillsides. In other places, such as the US northeast, you might farm dairy cattle on the hills, or grow maple trees. IOW, conventional farming of annual crops on hillsides is labor-intensive (and the soil tends to be poorer), so you grow things that don't need annual plowing & planting, like grape vines or fruit trees such as olive: http://www.oli-de-mallorca.com/cultivation-olive-grove-majorca.html

If you are doing the plow & plant thing on hillsides, you use contour plowing https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contour_plowing or terracing, otherwise heavy rains will soon erode your soil.

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    $\begingroup$ Right. For wine, the steep slopes are actually considered advantageous: in northern latitudes, a south-facing hill receives more sunlight than a plain surface. Even more if there's a river below it that reflects some sunlight (often advertised for Mosel and Rheingau wines, not sure how much difference this really makes). $\endgroup$ – leftaroundabout Oct 17 at 10:30
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How do farmers plow on uneven terrain?

Simple answer - they don't.

if traditional farming techniques are used.

Traditional for who?

In rice farming areas, the tradition is terraces and paddies. No ploughing needed, and planting was entirely human-powered.

In Europe, the tradition is animal herding. Areas with upland pastures lend themselves to cattle and transhumance, as practised in much of Europe. Where there is no such pasture, such as in much of the hillier areas of Britain, the tradition is sheep farming. Where the land is more mountainous, the tradition is often goats.

Small quantities of crops will be cultivated in the lowlands, which typically is where families live. But the primary product of the farm will be animal-based, not arable.

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Contour planting along the slope reduces water runoff and decreases soil erosion so is preferred to planting up and down the slope where possible. Another answer mentioned the danger of equipment rollover when driving along contours. The contour combine harvester was developed in the Palouse region of northwestern USA to reduce the centre of gravity to prevent this and to improve how grain fed through the equipment.

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