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What I've Learned From No-Tilling: It Takes Time To Learn How To No-Till Slopes That Exceed 50%

Idaho direct-seeder Russ Zenner spent more than 20 years developing rotations and testing equipment to continuously no-till some of the world’s steepest slopes.

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NAME: Russ Zenner

LOCATION: Genesee, Idaho

YEARS NO-TILLING: 32 (100% since 2000)

ACRES NO-TILLED: 2,800

CROPS NO-TILLED: Winter wheat, spring wheat, durum, barley, spring peas, lentils, garbanzo beans, mustard and canola

When I'm asked what the primary differences are between no-tilling in the Palouse region of Idaho and Washington versus the Midwest, the discussion starts with our steep slopes.

In the Palouse, we farm some of the steepest slopes in the world. Some exceed 50%. This land is as challenging as it is beautiful.

It’s prone to erosion from wind, tillage and water in every cropping season. Historically, erosion has been severe.

When summer fallow was common in Latah County where I farm, the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) measured the average annual topsoil loss at 25 tons per acre. On some of the steepest land, erosion exceeded 200 tons per acre per year.

My wife, Kathy, and I were fortunate to be able to purchase the ground my grandfather, Pete Zenner, bought in 1935.

We now farm 2,800 acres, which has been in continuous direct-seeding (no-till) since 2000.

Our success with no-till has evolved through three key levels of achievement.

  1.  I learned to adopt and adapt rotations and equipment that stop or significantly reduce erosion without hurting productivity.
  2. Taking a leadership role with other aspiring Pacific Northwest no-tillers has encouraged essential research on sustainable farming methods and better soil stewardship across our region.
  3. Adopting no-till has kept us competitive through specialty marketing of identity-preserved, branded premium flours…
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Ross_ron

Ron Ross

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