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Direct Seed Systems in Northeastern Washington
Randy and Jeff Emtman Emtman Brothers Farms, Valleyford, WA

Our farm is located South of Spokane. Our fields are dispersed in an area with about a 15-mile radius. The rainfall and climate vary greatly within this radius. The topography and soil types vary widely in this same area also. The slope ranges from level to rolling hills as steep as 50%. We have at least 15 different series of soil classifications ranging from very shallow sandy soils to deep silt loam soils.

We are among the fourth generation of farmers in the Emtman family. One of our goals is to see future generations follow this farming tradition. In order for this to occur the farm needs to remain economically viable and we need to conserve and hopefully improve our most important resource - the soil. Through direct seeding and minimizing tillage we feel we can accomplish this task.

Our father and uncle first started with direct seeding in the late 70's. They started with some simple double disc drills and over the years have tried various makes and models. We currently use a 5000 Flexi-coil drill and a 6000 Flexi-coil air drill. The 5000 is a hoe-type opener on 7.2" spacing with 1 " wide steel packer wheels. The 6000 has Barton openers equipped with the double shoot option. The openers on this drill are spaced at 7.5". Both drills use the 2320 cart set up to "tow between". Each drill is quite versatile and can be used in a wide variety of conditions ranging from conventional tillage to direct seeding.

We use two basic rotations on our farm depending upon location and soil type. The first rotation is bluegrass for several years followed by direct seeded oats. After an application of Roundup in the spring the oats are seeded using the 6000 air drill. The drill is equipped to apply a band of liquid fertilizer solution to the side of and below the seed.

We are currently trying various ideas to plant bluegrass following the oats without much tillage. Due to the small size of the bluegrass seed and the shallow planting depth required we are faced with quite a challenge. Our latest attempt was to seed the bluegrass into oat stubble that was prepared with a disc in the fall, then cultivated twice in the spring and harrowed and then packed. We used a Great Plains double disc drill with 12" spacing. Each opener has a slide in front of the blades followed by a packer wheel. The weather was ideal following planting and we were satisfied with the resulting stands of bluegrass.

The second rotation is a 3-year rotation of a spring grain followed by a legume followed by direct seeded winter wheat. In the fall a disc is used for tillage after the spring grain which leaves most all of the residue on top of the soil. The disc also leaves the surface quite level, which we find to be very critical when using the 5000 air drill. In the spring after an application of Roundup and Pursuit we will harrow using a 10 bar flex harrow to break up the straw and then seed the legumes using the 5000 air drill. Sometimes we will follow the drill with another harrowing to smooth the ground to aid in the harvest of the legumes.

Winter wheat is direct seeded following the legumes. We use the 5000 air drill that is equipped with double shoot seed boots to seed and fertilize in one pass. Following the winter wheat we will use a disc-ripper for the fall tillage. The disc-ripper is adjusted to leave most of the residue on the surface and with the ripper teeth running deep enough to shatter any hard pan that may be present to help with water infiltration and root penetration.

We have attempted to eliminate the tillage operations entirely but without much success. This is mostly due to the large amounts of residue to contend with especially following the winter wheat. The 5000 air drill will handle only so much residue due to the narrow row spacing and the 6000 air drill seems to tuck straw into the seed row when seeding into high residue situations. We feel that we have an acceptable blend of direct seeding and limited tillage and have noticed an increase in organic matter in the top 2-3" of the soil. The increased organic matter has really had a positive effect on the tilth of the soil.