Return to 2001 Conference Proceedings

Farming on the Dry Side in Eastern Washington
Jerry Snyder, Ritzville, WA

Good day, my name is Jerry Snyder. I am a 4th generation farmer in Eastern Adams County, Washington State. I farm in an 11-inch annual rainfall area. The soils that I farm are Ferrell, Willis, Shanos, Esquatzel, Ritzville Silt Loams, and various combinations of all the above. Their primary content is sand.

I have been farming full time since 1977, but I was born and raised on this farm where my father was born and raised, and my grandfather moved to in 1909, and my great grandfather came to the county in the 1880's. Their philosophy was the larger the sagebrush the better the ground. Beside the heavier ground required oxen or mules to plow and my great-grandfather didn't have that kind of money.

My farm consists of a summer fallow rotation up until 8 years ago. I began No-till in earnest. We grow wheat, barley and a cow calf operation. I have about 3,000 acres of farm ground in which 1500 was farmed every year. Leaving half in fallow. I must add that my father no-till some in the late sixties and again in the early 70's. They were not very successful.

My average production is 50 bu. Acre on one farm; 38 bu acre on another; and 44 on another. I was driven to seek No-till due to my participation in pm-10 conferences and the simple economics of it all. When you have 1940 to 1930 wheat prices and 2000 expenses you have to do something to survive.

I grow small grains in my no-till operation. I have tried Yellow mustard: not a continuos market. Safflower, not enough income and to far to go to sell the product, besides, I believe this should be called Rape because the soil tests after this crop showed very little moisture left and very few nutrients that weren't removed from the soil. I tried Millet, it did well one year and amounted to nothing the next, to cool. Due to economic depression I have returned to the tried and true. I also tried Canola and had some bad luck although there are new varieties and I believe this crop is in my future.

My soil prior to no-till had .9 organic matter to 1.2 In 7 years of no-till I have seen the organic matter move up to 1.9. This is great but I don't believe it will go much further because native soils have only about 2.5 to 2.2 organic matter.


My drill is a modified McGregor drill. I have a yetter fertilizer coulter out front that cuts the soil and places the fertilizer about 2 inches below the seed. I have a acra-plant opener that follows this coulter. The Coulter in front can penetrate lots of stubble and very large Russian Thistles and still get good seed to soil contact. Each one of the openers can be individually adjusted for seed depth. The packer that follows is on a spring tension that allows you to seed to a depth of 3 inches to just surface seeding. I pull this drill with my 8430 tractor. Because you are not dragging something through the soil but cutting it the horse power requirements are less than other implements. The drill is 20 feet in length and folds to 10 feet wide by hydraulics and you tow it down the road. The tires are airplane tires with very heavy load capacity being 22 ply tires.

I use aqua fertilizer and phosphate and sulfur and triple shoot. I use aqua because of the availability of the fertilizer and it doesn't change the pH of the soil as years of anhydrous can. Seeding rates are around 70 pounds for spring barley and 65 lb. for wheat except for a spring club that is around 80 lbs.

My yields have improved with learning how to manage the soil but if it doesn't rain it doesn't matter. 2 years ago when we had a test plot out on the DNS it rained only 7 tenths of an inch from February through to harvest. The crop was 20 bu / acre but had 15.4 protein.

My observations are placement of fertilizer is very critical. I can't stress this enough.
Seed to soil contact is very important.
Being able to get through the residue.
Being certain you can make money doing it.!!!!!!!!!!!

My drill was a minimal investment. It was built by the McGregor company and it became a very high maintenance item for them so they were selling the used ones. I purchased it for around 12,000 dollars and spent about 2,000 to make it functional for me.

I want to stress this drill works for me on my farm where we have one half section with 42 different soil types. It is sandy for the most part except for the Ritzville Silt Loam that I seed.

I am not totally no-till because I don't like putting all my eggs in one basket so I have been seeding about 600 acres to spring and about 1000 to conventional or should I say minimal tillage.

I have a part time hired man and manage about 2,000 or CRP for 2 other individuals. Along with cows and I daughter in college and one son a Junior in Highschool my wife and I are very busy.

I must leave you with this. A few years ago a neighbor was listening to someone from Arizona telling how dry it was. A neighbor of ours said "Well, it was so dry in Adams county we went down to the creek and sprayed the cat fish for ticks."

Thank you

Jerry L. Snyder
839 N. Klein Rd.
Ritzville, Washington 99169

Jerry Snyder - Comparisons of No-Till and Conventional

Conventional Winter Wheat ~43 hr/100 acres 21.5 10-hr days / 500 acres
Conventional Spring Wheat ~27 hr/100 acres 13.3 10-hr days / 500 acres
No-Till Spring Wheat ~17 hr/100 acres 8.3 10-hr days / 500 acres
Note: seasonal time allocation is not considered!  
Total Cash Cost (seed, fertilizer, herbicide, etc.)  
Conventional Winter Wheat $70/acre  
Conventional Spring Wheat $45/acre (~$5.00 for additional tillage cash cost such as repair and fuel.)
No-Till Spring Wheat $40/acre  
Gross Returns (loan rate $2.84/bu)  
Conventional Winter Wheat (45 bu/acre) $127.80/acre  
Conventional Spring Wheat (30 bu/acre) $ 85.20/acre  
No-Till Spring Wheat (30 bu/acre) $ 85.20/acre  
Equipment Ownership Cost    
  • No-till drill
    • $13,000
    • $ 2,000
    • $15,000


ownership cost (10 year allocation)
$1500 / year over 1,200 acres/year
  • Equipment expense over the past 10 Years
    • $16,000
    • $ 2,000
    • $44,000
    • $14,000
    • $ 500
    • $ 800
    • $77,300

bucket tractor
JD 8960

~$8,000 / year for tillage equipment
~$3,300 / year for combine replace.
$11,300 / year for total equipment

$6.85 / acre for equipment
replacement on 1,600 acres
  • 15 years
    • $50,000

  • 200 hr / year to maintain equipment
  • $15,000 / year to maintain equipment
  • $500 / year to maintain no-till drill…………$0.42/acre
Spring Wheat
Spring Wheat
Gross return $85.20 $85.20
Cash cost - $40.00 $45.00
No-till drill ownership cost - $1.25 $0.00
No-till drill maintence cost - $0.42 $0.00
Equipment replacement - $6.85 $6.85
Net Return = $36.68 $33.35

† Additional cost (maintence, fuel, etc) to plant spring wheat in a conventional system

Note: this does not include land cost, taxes, insurance, interest, housing, family withdraw, etc.

Note: this assumes equal yield……may not happen

Note: this does not include any changes in the soil. Note: this does not take into account variability in fuel cost between systems…….no-till uses less fuel so higher fuel prices will have more impact on conventional system, but may be a push because higher fuel prices will drive up fertilizer and chemical cost which are more prevalent in a no-till system.

Note: risk is not factored into this equation or any economic gains or opportunity cost for time saved.