Transitional Experiences with a Direct Seeding System
in the Intermediate Rainfall Zone

Steve and Dan Moore, General Partners
Moore-2 Farms, Lacrosse, Washington

 

Our farms are located between Dusty and Hay, Washington. The annual precipitation can vary between 11 to 15 inches falling on Walla Walla silt-loam soil. The terrain consists of rolling hills to steep, 50% slopes.

Desiring to be a good steward of the land that God had given him, our dad, Don Moore, began experimenting with no-tilling continuous winter wheat in the early 70’s using a Comfort King drill with little success due to increased downy brome infestations. He quickly went away from that and began stripping and dividing slopes to reduce erosion.

We started farming in 1986 as a partnership and followed the 2-year rotation of winter wheat and summer fallow. We progressed to delayed minimum tillage by using Roundup and the McGregor Ripper-shooter. The reduced erosion by leaving more residue and the gain in moisture from reduced tillage operations were very beneficial to plant development. But diseases increased and robbed us of the yields that we expected. So we started a 3-year rotation with spring barley being the new crop. This increased our yields dramatically for both the winter and spring crop.

So why switch to no-till? After a 90 bushel winter wheat crop, we had to perform 9 operations on the residue to get the spring barley seedbed prepared. Plowing or burning in the fall got us down to 6 operations reducing our input costs. We thought that if we could reduce operations even further we could benefit by the increased moisture availability to the plant. Faced with pending wind and water legislation, increased global competition, and a lack of desire to spend our lives inside the cab of a tractor, we decided it was time to try no-tilling once again. With Roundup, new seeding technology available, and increased university support, we knew we had a pretty good shot at it.

About the same time we started working with Monsanto on the Center of Excellence using a JD 750 drill. We also experimented on our own chem-fallow by no-tilling in winter wheat. Liking the quick emergence, the color of the plant, and the lack of erosion made us bolder to try more. Looking forward to the spring of 1998, we had a lot of spring barley ground that could be no-tilled if we had the moisture and a drill.

We liked the idea of a lower disturbance, coulter-disc type drill because of the benefit to the soil and the increased ease of pulling it around our hills. The JD 750 fit the criteria but its 15-foot width was too small for us to complete our seeding in a timely fashion. We finally decided to purchase a 35 foot Great Plains air-drill equipped with an 800 gallon liquid tank and a deep-band injection system right behind each coulter. Seed and dry starter fertilizer are blown together into each offset double-disc opener and a 2- inch packer wheel trails to close the furrow. We also purchased a JD 8970 to pull the drill. We traded-off a couple pieces of equipment to reduce the initial cost of these acquisitions and to reduce the conventional machinery complement. Needless to say, the transition period can be financially risky.

We are trying a 4-year rotation of winter wheat, spring barley, spring wheat, and chem-fallow. We are working with Monsanto to expand the Center of Excellence by 210 acres to test the viability of a winter wheat, spring barley, spring wheat rotation. Linola, mustard, corn, and peas have been tried with limited success. A good market price will determine if we try those crops again. We live in the best cereal grain production area in the world so we are going to try to keep raising them.

We are learning much in this transition phase about the benefits of no-tilling such as:

  1. Reduced wind and water erosion;
  2. Increased water infiltration;
  3. Increased usage of land reducing fixed land costs;
  4. Ease of changing seeding decisions due to moisture, timing, crop prices, etc.;
  5. Increased yields due to crop rotation, moisture savings, and better placement of fertilizer;
  6. Reduced equipment complement and tillage operations which save time, labor, and fuel.

We are also learning about some of the drawbacks such as:

  1. Increased management in the areas of;
    1. gathering data and then turning that data into useful information,
    2. increased attentiveness to weed control,
    3. increased fertilizer and chemical decisions,
  2. Initial increase in capital outlays;
  3. Risk due to a new way of farming—lots of unknowns.

We are committed to the successful implementation of no-tilling on our farm believing that it will keep our soil healthy and on the hills while at the same time help us to stay competitive with the global grain market.


 

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