Advancing Sustainable Agriculture in the Pacific Northwest

Conservation Tillage Systems

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Conservation Tillage Update Newsletter

May 2008


In this issue:


USDA-ARS Land Management and Water Conservation Research Unit Selected for Closure in President’s Budget

The USDA-ARS Land Management and Water Conservation Research Unit located at the WSU-Pullman campus was not included in President Bush’s fiscal year 2009 budget recommendations to Congress and is hence selected for closure.  Final decisions are expected by September 30, 2008 pending the usual legislative activities of the budget process including House and Senate agricultural appropriations subcommittee hearings and recommendations.

Researchers in the LMWCRU are actively engaged in many issues of national as well as regional prominence and work in collaboration with producers, land-grant universities, national laboratories, agribusiness, grower associations and commodity groups, state and federal agencies and other USDA-ARS units, both here and across the nation.

At the Palouse Conservation Field Station and other locations, LMWCRU scientists are conducting research on integrated agricultural systems including cereal–based rotations, direct seed systems, biofuels, alternative crops, weed management strategies, and organic farming systems; management systems and decision models to prevent wind blown dust, improve air quality, and prevent water erosion; carbon sequestration, sustainable soil management, and mitigation of global climate change; and precision agricultural systems for effective and sustainable use of fertilizer and herbicides.


Residue Survey Update

As was reported in the last Conservation Tillage update, a team led by Hans Kok and Dennis Roe has been surveying the status of farmland in the Inland Northwest since last spring. Traveling a pre-set route through counties, observations are made every mile, noting crops, residue levels, tillage system used, erosion etc.

Results so far are mixed.  For example, in Whitman County, WA low levels of crop residue were found on most winter and spring planted fields, and a mere seven percent of direct seeded acres! Only one farm had residue levels over 80 percent after seeding. Other counties, such as Columbia County (Dayton, WA) and Spokane County, had much higher crop residue and direct seeding levels. Lewis County, ID had over 70% direct seeding!

All observation points continue to be geo-referenced using a GPS system so these ground observations can be linked to satellite imagery. Recent research indicates that in the near future it may be possible to perform these surveys with just satellite images saving much time and money.  The team hopes to continue these surveys for several more years, to obtain a good record of farming practices, and residue cover.


FY 2008 Special Research Grants Funded

As a result of the lobbying efforts of individual growers and grower organizations, special research grants were returned to the fiscal year (FY) 2008 congressional budget. This means that Pacific Northwest projects like Solutions to Environmental and Economic Problems (STEEP), the Columbia Plateau PM10 Project (CP3), Grass Seed Cropping Systems for a Sustainable Agriculture (GSCSSA), and Cool Season Food Legume (CSFL), among others, will receive some funding in 2008 to continue research. Researchers with projects funded by these special grants owe the individuals and stakeholder organizations that lobbied for them an enormous debt of gratitude for their support.

For FY 2008, the STEEP program will receive approximately $440,000 to support research in the Washington, Oregon and Idaho area. This total represents a 25% reduction in funding compared to previous years. The future of special grant funding beyond FY 2008 is also uncertain. Consequently, through a series of e-mail discussions, growers and scientists on the STEEP Joint Coordinating Committee unanimously agreed that the best course of action was to strategically invest FY 2008 funding in ongoing, long-term conservation tillage-related research projects. This investment will ensure these projects continue for at least another three growing years.

Research proposals were solicited from scientists leading or involved in ongoing, long term, research. These were reviewed and ranked, and the following four projects (in alphabetical order of first author) recommended for funding:

Field-Scale Evaluation of Key Economic, Weed, Disease, Soil C and N Properties in Long-term Direct-Seeding at the Cook Agronomy Farm
Ian C. Burke, Ann-Marie Fortuna, David Huggins, Scot Hulbert, Kate Painter, and Timothy Paulitz, Washington State University and the USDA-ARS

Assessing the Impact of Direct Seeding (No-Till) and Conventional-Till on Nitrogen Fertility, Soil, and Insect Responses
Stephen O. Guy, Nilsa A. Bosque-Pérez, and Jodi Johnson-Maynard, University of Idaho

Developing Profitable and Sustainable Cropping Systems for North-Central Oregon and South-Central Washington: Phase III (2008-2011)
Stephen Machado, Steve Petrie, Dick Smiley, Dan Ball, and Don Wysocki, Oregon State University

Long-Term Conservation and Alternative Cropping Systems Research in the Typical Wheat–Fallow Zone
William Schillinger, Tim Paulitz, Ann Kennedy, and Doug Young, Washington State University and the USDA-ARS

In addition, two proposals focused in high need areas were also funded:

Decomposition of Residue from Cereal Cultivars in Dryland Ecosystems
Ann C. Kennedy and Tami L. Stubbs, USDA-ARS, Pullman

Outreach for PNW Direct Seed and Conservation Tillage Systems Technologies
Hans Kok and Donald J. Wysocki, Washington State University, University of Idaho, and Oregon State University

STEEP Impact Assessment Complete

The Chairs of the STEEP research program were asked by the USDA to prepare an impact assessment of its agricultural research and education activities to date in order to evaluate the extent program goals were achieved and return on investment.  The comprehensive report, completed in October 2007, documents STEEP’s 30 years of success improving environmental impacts while bettering the economic viability of farming, and reviewing lessons learned.  The self-published report, as well as a four-page executive summary and poster presentation are available on the STEEP website ( pending Extension’s formal bulletin review process.


Stubble Management in a Snowy Winter

Was this a wet or dry winter?

Farmers are reporting that soil moisture in the Palouse is not very deep, maybe as shallow as two feet yet we had near record snow fall. Moscow, ID received almost double the normal amount of snow; 80 inches. April weather data from Pullman shows just over 16 inches of water from precipitation since September 2007, which is actually only two tenths inch above normal. The total precipitation since January was almost seven inches, about an inch shy of normal. Translated, it was a very average winter for moisture from precipitation.

Where did the unaccounted moisture go? In late April, large snowdrifts were still present across the landscape. Strong winds in the winter re-distributed the snow resulting in very wet north slopes and much dryer south slopes. Mottled colors of green and lighter shades of green and yellow were evident in the wheat where water was absent due to the snow blowing away. Such coloring goes unnoticed in years where precipitation comes as rain instead of snow; rain falls more evenly across the landscape.

Interestingly, fewer snowdrifts were observed in no-till fields or fields where the stubble was left standing in the fall. Soil samples revealed deeper soil moisture in those fields than in tilled fields nearby. Even with the large amount of snow, the stubble was able to hold some of it and diminish the re-distribution.

A significant amount of ‘snirt’ was observed in the winter. Once the snow blew off a field, it allowed the exposed soil to be blown on top of the snow banks, making a mix of snow and dirt; ‘snirt’. This was very evident once the snow started melting. In contrast, some drifts next to stubble and CRP fields had much whiter snow this spring since there was less soil in the snow.

Amazing was the wind erosion that occurred during spring tillage in mid to late April. After the winter-long soil cover by wet snow, it took only a couple of tillage passes to dry out the soil enough for the wind to blow it around! Without timely spring rains, the crops planted on these dry, pulverized soils might very well run out of moisture. An inch of available soil water contributes to a potential seven bushels of winter wheat and six bushels of spring wheat per acre.


New Extension Publications

An Economic Comparison of No-till Annual Rotations to Conventional Winter Wheat-Fallow in Adams County, WA 2005
Elizabeth L. Nail, Douglas L. Young, Herbert R. Hinman, and William F. Schillinger
EB1997E, August 2005, 56 pages, online only

Using the Nitrogen Mineralization Soil Test to Predict Spring Fertilizer N Rate:  Soft White Winter Wheat Grown in Western Oregon
M. Hart, N.W. Christensen, M.E. Mellbye, and M.D. Flowers
FS 334-E, January 2006, online only

Monitoring Soil Nutrients in Dryland Systems Using Management Units
M.K. Corp, D.A Horneck, D. Wysocki, and L. Lutcher
EM 8920-E , November 2006, online only

Managing Nitrogen for Yield and Protein in Hard Wheat
M.D. Flowers, L.K. Lutcher, M.K. Corp, and B. Brown
FS 335 , January 2007, online only

Economic Comparison of Undercutter and Traditional Tillage Systems for Winter Wheat-Summer Fallow Farming
Andrey A. Zaikin, Douglas L. Young, and William F. Schillinger
EB2022E, February 2007, 29 pages, free download

Acidifying Soil for Crop Production: Inland Pacific Northwest
Donald Horneck, Don Wysocki, Bryan Hopkins, John Hart, and Robert Stevens
PNW599E, September 2007, 15 pages, online only

Jointed Goatgrass: Best Management Practices (BMP) Intermountain Region
Michael Quinn, Don Morishita, Jack Evans, Ralph Whitesides, and Tony White
EB2003, October 2007, 8 pages, free download

Ecology and Control of Russian Thistle After Spring Wheat Harvest
Willian F. Schillinger, Harry L. Schafer, Steven E. Schofstoll, and Bruce E. Sauer
XB1046E, February 2008, 13 pages, free download

Economics of an Irrigated No-till Crop Rotation with Alternative Stubble Management Systems Versus Continuous Irrigated Winter Wheat with Burning and Plowing of Stubble, Lind, WA, 2001-2006
Andrey A. Zaikin, Douglas L. Young and William F. Schillinger
EB2029E, February 2008, 32 pages, online only

Eight Years of Annual No-Till Cropping in Washington's Winter Wheat - Summer Fallow Region
William F. Schillinger, Ronald P. Jirava, Ann C. Kennedy, Douglas L. Young, Harry L.Schafer, and Steven E. Schofstoll
XB1043E, February 2008, 24 pages, online only

Planting Dates for Winter Wheat Cover Crops to Control Wind Erosion on the Columbia Basin
H. Kok, R. Papendick, K. Saxton, W. Pan, and R. Bolton
EB2030E, April 2008, 6 pages, online only


2008 PNW Conservation & Station Field Days

See Coming Events (link)

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Hans Kok, WSU/UI Extension Conservation Tillage Specialist, UI Ag Science 231, PO Box 442339, Moscow, ID 83844 USA (208)885-5971
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