By T.J. BURNHAM
Did God decide after the seventh day of creation to have a little fun and mess with Pacific Northwest farmers to create a land where direct seeding couldn’t work?
That’s what Washington producer Douglas Poole said he wondered before he and fellow farmers conquered the direct-seed challenge, bringing the state into what is arguable a land of 50% direct-seeded acreage today.
In a panel discussion among growers over their successful direct-seeding experiences, here are the comments of six producers from the Pacific Northwest to the PNW Oilseed & Direct Seed Conference in Kennewick, Wash., earlier this winter:
• Douglas Poole, Mansfield, Wash. Farming in a 7- to 9-inch annual-rainfall area on land with “lots of rocks,” Poole took over a farm where he said his first mission was to “stop the bleeding that had gone on in the soil” for many years.
“With the encouragement and help of [Agricultural Research Service agronomist] Frank Young and the Natural Re-source Conser-vation Service,” direct seeding worked, he said, “while according to talk in the coffee shop that all direct-seeding farmers in the region would go broke.”
One of his hints: “Stay away from the mantra that all you can use is a drill when you’re going through the transition [from conventional to not till farming],” he told the conference.
If it is necessary sometimes to perform a few questionable coulter operations, he believes the farmer who wants to successfully reach full-scale no-till might have to bend the unwritten rule.
That’s how he reached his no-till direct-seed successes today, he said, in an effort that included making canola work to break the grain disease cycle. “We couldn’t have succeeded without help from others,” he said.
• Andy Juris, Bickelton, Wash. Farming shallow soil, Juris spoke of the high-residue benefits of using a stripper header in maximizing moisture and building organic matter in the soil.
“We are still trying to determine the benefits of oilseed in field trials,” he said, “as we farm by trial and mostly error.”
If he practiced a strategy in his road to direct seeding, he said it is the “fine art of screwing up.”
His persistence to succeed with no-till was driven by several factors, he said, including “desperation.” But he was in pursuit of better soil health, residue management and biodiversity in the crops he grew.
Many times, farmers like him base decisions on what neighbors might think, said Juris, warning fellow farmers against “uninhibited, unfounded enthusiasm or pessimism” when making decisions to go to no-till or direct seed, or to try new oilseed scenarios.
Too many growers come away from meetings like the direct-seed conference with a one-page flier from one of the many show booths and are excited about making changes, he said, without tempering their enthusiasm with their farm realities.
“A grower should start by considering the necessities of his farm,” he said, “such as the disease, pest, soil type, cultural, weather, moisture and other needs” he deals with each day.
When making a decision to change, he urged producers to base their decisions on what is practical and economical. “How do you separate all the information that is available from what you can use and cannot use?” he said.
For more on grower reports from the conference, go to our website at FarmProgress.com and click on “Web Exclusives.”
“Crop rotation is a big component of our success in direct seeding. We also use a lot of variable-rate fertilizers to cut our costs and reduce inputs.”
“Cover crop grazing under a direct-seeding system is something producers may want to try. My calves on these paddocks gained very well.”
“We flex our crops according to the moisture we have and the market conditions. In some years, we don’t grow anything at all.”
This article published in the March, 2015 edition of WESTERN FARMER-STOCKMAN.
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