Experiences with Direct Seeding Systems in the Higher Rainfall Annual Cropping Regions of the Inland Northwest

David Carlton

Dayton, WA

We farm around the Dayton, WA. area. Precipitation on our fields range from an average of 17 to 20 inches per year. This amounts to some years recieving as little as 9 to as much as almost 30 inches in the wettest of years as the last two have been.

Most of the land we farm is fairly steep, 45% slopes are very normal to us. Our soil types range from nice Walla Walla silt loams to some of the red clay like the hills in the Palouse have. Most of our soils are 6 ft or deeper with very few shallow areas 3 ft or less. We do have one field in the 20 inch precip area that is very steep with a lot of shallow spots, which makes spring cropping very difficult.

The crops grown on our farm include winter and spring wheat, spring barley, spring peas, small plots of corn. We have grown winter canola in the past and I am thinking of trying some mustard in the future.

We are currently trying to use a 3 and 4 year rotation. The 3 yr consists of spring barley - dry peas - winter wheat, then back to spring barley. The 4 yr consists of spring barley - dry peas or spring wheat - winter wheat - burn recrop winter wheat, then back to spring barley.

Before we were no-tilling we were not in any kind rotation. We wheat-summer fallowed , wheat - dry peas , and had some annual winter wheat. What we planted depended on the farm program and our acreage bases. Most of the surrounding area farms are either in a wheat - dry pea or wheat - summer fallow rotation. A few are in a similar 3 yr rotation to ours.

Prior to no-tilling we used all of the tillage arsenals available. We fall plowed for our spring crops and our recrop winter wheat , deep chisled our dry pea ground. I felt we had too many tillage trips and too much erosion. About 12 years ago, we tried some no-till on some pea ground and burn recrop ground. It worked very well and have been hooked ever since! Now we are trying to figure out how to no-till 100% and not burn.

Currently we are using Yielder no-till drills on our farm. I tried a JD750 on some peas last year in some spring stubble and am planning to try some again this year. Also possibly looking at some other drills available.

We are direct seeding or no-tilling for three main reasons. More water storage and water use efficiency which equal higher yields, less trips over the field which saves time and fuel, and thirdly, less soil erosion because of annual cropping and from the reduction of tillage trips. The first two equal more net profit short term. The last one is more long term in that it sustains the land for future generations to farm.

The benefits we are now seeing from direct seeding over the years are more earthworms, better soil structure and increased water infiltration allowing it to absorb more water from heavy rains. By not having it worked deep from tillage if the water does run off it doesn't cut deep ditches.

I think that the key to long term direct seeding is rotation. Without that you are sunk before you even start. The other thing we still use is fire in some of our systems. This is the only way we have been able to overcome the problem of direct seeding our current crops into 100 bushel winter wheat stubble and 2 ton spring barley stubble. The lower residue crops like peas or mustard are very easy to no-till into. Even lighter spring crops are good to no-till into. The biggest reasons for failure have been too much residue and no rotation.

I think the future of direct seeding in our area is gong to be dependent on being able to seed crops through high residue without having to burn the stubble off. Rotations are going to play a vital part of these systems.

We have been experimenting with plots of dryland field corn for the last two years, following a trip in June of >95 to Dwanye Beck's research farm in South Dakota. This year we added some sunflowers and dry beans as well as a 13 acre field of corn.

The corn did pretty good this year. Eighty five bushel on the 13 acre field. The plots where we had some different varieties went about 70 bushel on the Pioneer and 50-55 for the Cargill dwarf corn. Our sunflower did okay considering we had no weed control and it was our first attempt. They made 1,000 lbs. but need to make 1,800 to 2,000 lbs to be profitable. I should add that the corn and sunflower plots had some Gramoxone Extra drift on them from our dry peas getting sprayed. We don't know how much or if it affected the yields, but it did affect their appearance.

The dry beans grew real well, but we were unable to harvest these because they were down in the furrows left from the corn planter.

Our direct seeded dry peas into standing spring barley stubble with the JD750 no-till drill went about 2,600 lbs. Not our best peas in yield, but okay for the first try. I felt we had an excellent stand.

I hope in the years to come we can figure out how to seed into the high residue we have by using crop rotations and new seeding technology.

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