Return to 2001 Conference Proceedings

Direct Seeding Systems in Northeast Oregon
--Doug & Carley Drake Ranch--
Doug Drake, partner and author

Carley and I farm both owned and rented land in south Morrow County Oregon. The farm is divided into two units which are thirty five miles apart but are very similar in soils and rainfall. The Sandhollow farm has some very steep terrain and the average soil depth is twenty inches. The Gooseberry farm is not as steep and has average soil depth of thirty inches. The annual rainfall is eight to ten inches. I have some irrigated hay ground but all the rest is dryland.

The crops grown have been soft white wheat (spring and winter), dark northern spring wheat, barley (fall and spring), and triticale. The normal rotation had been winter crop and summer fallow until the farm program allowed annual cropping. I would raise some spring barley or DNS on ground that needed cleaned up but the normal crop has been fall wheat followed by a year of fallow with no real rotation for disease control.

I sold my moldboard plow in 1979 and have not used one since. Before I started direct seeding my fallow was trashy fallow. I started using Roundup when it first became available and still do. When I have fallow other than chemical fallow the ground is sprayed, chistled, cultivated, fertilized, weeded as needed and seeded. If I know a piece of ground is going into a fallow rotation and spring seeded, it will be chem. fallow otherwise it will be minimum till fallow and fall seeded.

I started direct seeding in earnest in 1997 with the purchase of a Concord Drill. This drill has a 110 bushel cart split 60/40, 700 gallon liquid fertilizer tank, and 30' width with 10" spaced Anderson triple shoot openers. I use a 68' ground sprayer for herbicide application and have a 30' alloway shredder that is used for stubble and weed skeleton management.

The major problem in this part of the county is soil erosion caused by rain on frozen soil. I tried notill back in the early 1980's and saw that it would prevent erosion of soil. The water may run off the field but the soil would stay put. I did not continue, mostly because of the farm program, until I purchased a drill in 1997. At that time I wanted to stop the erosion of soils on the land I was farming and this was the only way I knew would work. I have many miles of terraces and have contour farmed for years but the ditches still formed every spring.

We farm about 3000 acres of land with no hired help. The high cost of farm land has made us find a way to get the most out of the land we are now farming. The option to seed a annual spring crop, if the moisture is available, is now reality . I spray the field and direct seed the crop. When the time comes I apply broadleaf herbicide and then wait for harvest. I do not have a firm dollar savings over the way I used to farm mostly because of the dry weather and thus low yields over the last two years. I still own all the tillage equipment but no wear and tear and several hundred fewer hours on the tractors will turn into dollars saved down the road.

The yields with the annual cropping have been a high of 58bu. to a low of 11bu. If we don't get the June rain we don't get the crop. I start planning for the next crop at harvest. I have a chaff spreader on the combine and will run the shredder behind the combine if the stubble needs to be shortened to ensure a good chemical application. I will spray round-up in the fall if the volunteer gets a good start and a follow up application in the early spring before seeding. I sample the soil for moisture and fertility to determine my fertilizer package. I use a liquid mixture that is placed 1.5" below the seed. No dry fertilizer is used in my operation although I do have the capability with the concord drill. I like to seed early in March or as soon as the soil conditions allow. The early seeded crops have the best chance to succeed in this area and my seeding deadline is April 15th in most years.

Some of the worst disasters I have had were due to poor herbicide application. With direct seeding there is one chance to get the volunteer cheat and goatgrass. I do not have time between spraying and seeding to make sure that no skips were made and that is why I now have my own ground sprayer. I have not been able to predict the weather so using long-range forecasts and fertilizing accordingly followed by a top dressing if needed works the best.

I like what direct seeding has done for our operation. I have entered the CRP program with some of the most erosive land and the rest will be farmed with land conservation and best return on the dollar possible. I have about 1/3rd of the land in fallow every year. I am not willing to take the total commitment and go entirely direct seeding but am not against the idea in the future as more crops become available.