Hoping to make a few converts, ag experts and farmers preached no-till seeding to about 50 grain growers at the Ag Expo and Farm Forum Thursday.
They said Northwest farmers had fallen behind their world competitors in adapting their agricultural methods to meet production and environmental demands. Their message was to put away the plow and adopt “no-till” practices. By changing to no-till, or direct seeding, and planting through stubble from the previous harvest, farmers could serve the environment by stopping wind erosion and serve themselves by keeping moisture in the ground thus having higher yeilds, the experts said.
In 1997 only five percent of Pacific Northwest crops were no-till. Brazil is already at 15 percent and Canada at 18 percent.
With Argentina closer to 28 percent, “we’re about five years behind in adopting new crop producing techniques,” said Roger Vorseth, extension conservation specialist with the University of Idaho.
Now technology and science is to the point that farmers can seed and fertilize by using drills instead of plows, he said.
One Ritzville-area farmer, Karl Kupers, has already converted much of his land to no-till. About 2,400 of his 5,600 leased acres were direct seeded in 1997, he said. And more will go in this year.
Because of good weather, Kupers yields were better than ever, though the experts warned yeilds would drop over the first five years, but climb after that.
Though Kupers dove into no-till farming, he wouldn’t recommend it to farmers not willing to face a few early years of risk and low production. “I just was the type of person who did a ‘ready, fire, aim’-type of approach, I guess,” he said.
Ultimately, farmers will have higher yields, less cost in planting their fields and more flexibility with what and when they plant, the experts said.
“Now we’re talking efficiency and profitability,” said James Cook, a U.S. Department of Agriculture research pathologist.
Recognizing that, the Washington Wheat Commission recently donated $1.5 million to Washington State University for an endowed chair to direct research into the no-till practices. Cook will lead the program to resolve problems such as root disease and heavy residue that come with direct seeding.
All three men agreed, in order to complete globally and meet environmental regulations, Northwest farmers will eventually have to turn to direct seeding.
“These other regions, because of the need, are well now surpassing where we’re at,” Kupers said. “If we don’t change, we’re going to get run over.”
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Hannelore Sudermann Staff writer