My son, Mike, and I recently spent 6 days looking at no-till in the Palouse, a 3,000-square-mile area located in the southeastern corner of Washington, north central Idaho and northeast Oregon. While I’ve visited this area several times where no-tillers grow crops on slopes as steep as 60%, I’d never been there during harvest of wheat, barley, peas, lentils and garbanzo beans.
Scratching one more item off my annual birthday wish list, our trip included more than 12 hours of hanging onto your seat combine time. We also visited five veteran no-tillers representing 31,000 acres of no-till ground, two equipment dealers, two manufacturers, a 100% custom no-till seeding operator and a conservation district manager who oversees innovative programs for equipment loans.
We witnessed firsthand the passion for no-till of Idaho and Washington pioneers. Seeing their innovative spirit to advance things even further charged up our batteries about no-till and our role in it.
Area growers refer to themselves as direct-seeders. It’s because no-till got a bad reputation in the area when it was first attempted here in the 1970s. In fact, the growers’ group is called the Pacific Northwest Direct Seed Association.
The area produces world-record, dryland wheat yields and 120-bushel-per-acre yields are not unusual. Some 13% of the U.S. wheat crop is produced here. Nearly 80% of the nation’s soft white wheat is grown here for food production.
While soil loss with extensive tillage on these steep slopes has long…