High Residue Farming in the Irrigated Far West

Final Report for EW13-008

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2013: $26,400.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Andrew McGuire
Washington State University Extension
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Project Information


Farmers in the irrigated regions of the far west have not adopted high residue farming (HRF; no-till, strip-till, etc.) to any great extent. Compared to the Midwest, adoption in these areas has been slowed by the challenges of using these systems with surface irrigation, by intensive crop rotations that include vegetables and other non-agronomic crops, and by the relatively less urgent soil conservation issues in arid climates. Recently, however, needs for water conservation, a new interest on building soil quality, increased overhead irrigation, and increased focus on controlling wind erosion has spurred adoption of high residue farming. To assist farmers with this major change, Extension and NRCS field personnel must adapt systems used in other regions to different climates, crops, and soils. In this project, we brought together Extension and NRCS representatives from AZ, CA, ID, NM, OR, and WA for a two-day conference to discuss the challenges of doing this, how best we can help each other, and how best to reach farmers. Farmers from these states, who are already using HRF, also attended to guide and ground our discussions. Finally, we held a training session on adult education, led by an expert on the topic, to give us the most current research on what motivates adults to make large, significant changes like the one to HRF and what methods could be used to increase adoption rates. As a result of this meeting, we established a HRF network website, http://westernhrf.wsu.edu/, containing a listing of people and active projects, and resources, including a annotated literature review. We also completed and submitted a HRF case study publication and video (in review at Washington State University, due out in late 2016).

Project Objectives:
  1. Increase Extension and NRCS personnel’s awareness and knowledge of HRF practices, challenges, and solutions in other states with similar agricultural systems.
  2. Collaboratively identify HRF problems common to these regions
  3. Identify and implement appropriate adult educational strategies for moving ahead with HRF programs
  4. Establish collaborations between Extension and Research personnel and with NRCS programs
  5. Create a website as a method to promote networking on these topics in the region, and post relevant information there.
  6. Create a case study of one or more farmer practitioner of high residue farming, for use among all the Western states that make up our project. This case study would include both edited video and a written publication, both posted online.

Target regions: Irrigated regions of the arid Far West where dynamic, intensive crop rotations include vegetables and other non-agronomic crops. This includes the Salt Valley and Yuma regions of AZ, the Central and Imperial Valleys of CA, the Treasure Valley of ID and OR, the Magic Valley of ID, the Rio Grande Valley and Eastern areas of NM, and the Columbia Basin of WA and OR.

Need: High residue farming (HRF) systems (including conservation tillage, no-till, strip-till, etc.) maintain crop residues on the soil surface thereby providing many benefits to the farmer and society. Although farmers have used RF systems in the Midwest since the 1960s and for several decades in dryland regions of the High Plains and the West, HRF is relatively new to our target regions. Adoption in these areas has been slowed by the challenges of using HRF with surface irrigation, in intensive crop rotations that include a changing mix of vegetables and other non-agronomic crops, and by the relatively less urgent (at least in terms of precipitation-induced water erosion) conservation issues in arid climates.

To increase both development of HRF systems and the rate of adoption of HRF, two things are needed.

First, Extension and NRCS personnel need to know about HRF work being done in other states. HRF research results need to be shared and integrated into collaborative Extension programs. NRCS should be involved in coordinating their programs with these Extension programs. All this would stimulate multi-state efforts to meet the shared challenges of increasing use of HRF in these regions.

Second, Extension and NRCS personnel need to know what current research says about how adults, specifically farmers, learn, and what motivates them to make large changes like the one to HRF. Although research-based facts will always be the basis of Extension’s work, they are not the main motivation behind change (Rogers, 1962). More recently, researchers have found that emotion and authenticity play large roles in how adults learn (Lockhart and Kelting-Gibson, 2012; Eckert and Bell, 2005). Extension personnel need be aware of this research and find ways to bring it into their HRF programming.


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  • Robert Flynn
  • Steven Hines
  • Marilyn Lockhart
  • Jeffrey Mitchell
  • Steven Norberg
  • Dr. Mike Ottman
  • Clinton Shock

Education & Outreach Initiatives



High Residue Farming meeting

The primary activity of this project was a two-day meeting, February 6-7, 2014:

Participants: One representative from each of the participating states (AZ, CA, ID, NM, OR, WA) attended from 1) Extension, 2) NRCS and 3) Farmers successfully implementing HRF. In addition, an NRCS representative from the Western Technical Center, the project leader, a facilitator, note taker, and an expert on adult learning participated, for a total of 21 people.

Location: Salt Lake City.


Day 1

State Extension and farmer representatives reported on the current state of HRF, their experience, and the top three challenges that they face. Current Extension activities and publications were also presented by each state in short fact sheets prepared beforehand by participants.

A facilitator from the NRCS then lead the group in a discussion of challenges and possible solutions, possible links to NRCS programs, and the best ways to help each other.

Day 2

In the morning, we continued the discussion started the previous afternoon. Using facilitated small group discussion, we listed the challenges, brainstormed possible solutions, prioritized the best, and formed a framework for collaborative projects.

In the afternoon, we focused on adult education and farmer motivation. Our adult education expert summarized the most recent research on how adults learn and what motivates them to make changes in their practices. We then discussed ways to integrate these results into HRF Extension programming.

Finally, we summarized the meeting's main results, and discussed potential future actions for forming an informal HRF network for connecting our regions after the meeting was over.

High Residue Farming Network

The other activity of this project was to create an HRF network linking our target regions. This network will facilitate collaboration by disseminating information on HRF activities in our target regions, listing personnel who are actively working on HRF (and their contact information), and prioritizing high-priority future projects. This work was carried out primarily through a website, http://westernhrf.wsu.edu/, containing the above information. It will now serve as a clearinghouse for announcements of HRF related publications and events.

Outreach and Publications

  1. HRF network website, http://westernhrf.wsu.edu/, includes the following:
    • A meeting report, including list of priority issues for the region.
    • a database of projects, research papers, and related materials organized by topic and location.
  2. HRF Case study (to be released by WSU in late 2016)
Outcomes and impacts:

A survey of meeting participants revealed the following:

  • 75% reported a significant increase in awareness of HRF Extension activities, research activities, and grower motivations and challenges.
  • 65% reported a significant increase in awareness of adult education methods and strategies.
  • Regarding HRF Extension activities. 41% reported plans to start new efforts with another 42% planning to increase current efforts.
  • 36% reported planning to start new HRF research activities, 54% planned to start new collaborations with other states, 42% planned to stare new collaborations within their states.
  • 50% are planning to increase current collaborations with NRCS
  • 52% planned to start new, or increase their current adult education strategies.
  • Reported activities initiated as a result of this meeting: regional meeting (OR and ID), coordinated use of equipment used in HRF research, collaboration on regional HRF conference, renewed commitment for NRCS and Extension in AZ to work together on HRF outreach.

Creation of a website with posting of HRF Network information including meeting proceedings, a list of Extension and NRCS personnel working in HRF with their contact information, and a list of current programs and projects

Creation of a network of Extension and NRCS personnel working in the irrigated Far West. This network has conducted several conference calls which resulted in a successful planning grant proposal and meeting of representatives from CA, NM and AZ. This group is discussing how to collaborate on a research project. Future activities may included a regional tour and shared outreach events.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Objectives 1-4 were either accomplished or begun during a meeting in Salt Lake City, February 6-7, 2014. Attending the meeting were Extension, NRCS, and grower representatives from Arizona, California, Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washington. In addition, an adult education expert from Montana attended and gave a seminar. A total of 21 people participated over the two day meeting which included state reports (most of day 1) on the current status of high residue farming (HRF) in irrigated cropping systems, from Extension, NRCS and grower participants. These presentations spurred numerous discussions of the challenges, benefits, and details of how HRF is being implemented in these different states. These discussions were continued, with a facilitator, on the second day of the meeting. The results of the discussions were outlined and are posted on a new website (see below). We listed activities that were successful in gaining adoption of HRF systems, needs for continuing this work, and actions for collaboration among the states. We also made a list of the barriers to adoption of these systems. Finally, we held a mini-workshop on adult-learning with Dr. Marilyn Lockhart of Montana State University, who had observed our day 2 discussions. She presented the latest research on how adults learn, and gave us tools to use in our HRF-related programming. She also led discussions on how these tools can be used most effectively. Her presentation and tools are included in the proceedings, posted on our website.

A survey of meeting participants was conducted in May, 2014. Results are shown below under Outcomes and Impacts.

After this meeting, a website, http://westernhrf.wsu.edu/, was created to allow news, events, and activities related to high residue farming in the Far West to be posted. Website users can subscribe through RSS to the posts and so be kept up-to-date on activities in other states.

The meeting also resulted in a network being formed to promote further collaboration. We have held three conference calls, which included new representatives from Colorado and Wyoming, discussing several projects including simultaneous events with streamed keynote speakers on soil health, a regional tour of HRF projects for 2015, and a regional HRF under irrigation conference.

Finally, through a no-cost extension, we produced a review of relevant material from research papers, Extension publications, and other sources, on our website. This work, which started in December 2014, includes a literature search, summarization and editing of materials, categorization and posting to the website. In addition, we created a HRF case study of a onion grower in Washington State.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.