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.

What’s In A Name?

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.

Big On Exports

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.

Erosion Control

While soil loss with extensive tillage on these steep slopes has long been a major concern, no-till is keeping these soils in place and dramatically trimming yearly losses that once ranged as high as 200 tons per acre. In the past, winter wheat seeded after a pulse crop or spring cereals often required five tillage operations. A spring crop after winter wheat needed eight or more trips.

Moisture Savings

As you drive west from the Washington and Idaho border, growers lose 1 inch of moisture for every 10 miles. With annual rainfall ranging from 24 inches down to only 6 inches, making the best use of moisture is crucial with no-till.

Early Seeding

Planting of spring wheat was extremely early this year. Spring wheat that is normally seeded around April 20 was seeded as early as March 20 due to warmer soil temperatures.

Paired Rows

Growers no-till wheat and other crops with a paired-row system that separate the rows by only a few inches. This paired-row idea has many similarities to the twin-row concept that’s gaining popularity among Midwestern no-tillers.

Leveling Systems

We saw no-tillers farming up to 60% slopes in a harvest season that stretches out over 60 days. Combines equipped with leveling systems are common to level the chassis on steep slopes and to help no-tillers harvest more bushels per acre. Look for more use of these units in hilly areas of the Midwest.