Enhancing No-Till and Conservation Farming Success Through the Use of Case Studies, Conferences, and Workshops to Facilitate Farmer to Farmer Learning in The Pacific Northwest

Final Report for SW97-034

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1997: $125,842.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2000
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $13,185.00
Region: Western
State: Washington
Principal Investigator:
Tim Veseth
Washington State University, Dept. of Crop and Soil Sciences
Expand All

Project Information

Abstract:

Great interest in no-till and minimum tillage exists in the Pacific Northwest due to recent changes in federal farm programs, increasing economic pressures, and the ever present need to protect environmental quality and enhance cropland productivity. Although about 60% of the dryland acreage in the PNW is still conventionally tilled, the region is fortunate to have an increasing number of growers who, based on available research and their own experiences, have developed and implemented highly successful no-till and minimum tillage programs. Their “working knowledge” of these farming systems can provide invaluable guidance to other farmers who are considering adapting them to their farms. The purpose of this SARE project was to improve the adoption of no-till and conservation tillage practices by sharing the success and field based wisdom of these established practitioners with other farmers and agricultural advisors.

Sixteen case studies in a Pacific Northwest Extension bulletin series have been developed that highlight successful farmer implemented no-till and minimum tillage farming systems. These cases include details of the grower’s farming practices and equipment; decision making factors affecting the adoption, implementation and continued use of these practices; challenges faced by the growers and strategies used to address them; economic analyses; and, when appropriate, summaries of research data that supports an aspect of the growers operation (e.g., continuous cropping vs. wheat/fallow). The first three case studies were published in September 1999. The next six were published between January and April 2000. The last seven are in press or layout draft stage and should be printed by December. “Train the trainers” workshops, featuring the case studies, were conducted for NRCS and conservation district staff in fall 1999. The 1998, and 1999 Northwest Direct Seed Cropping Systems Conferences, each attended by over 900 growers and Ag support personnel, provided another forum for farmer to farmer learning about no-till and min-till systems. By sharing the working knowledge of experienced growers, we hope to enhance the success of no-till and minimum tillage farming in our region.

Project Objectives:

This project seeks to improve the adoption of no-till and conservation tillage practices by sharing the success and field based wisdom of established practitioners with other farmers and agricultural advisors.

Objective 1. Produce detailed case studies of successful farmer implemented no-till and conservation tillage farming systems and distribute as extension publications.

Objective 2. Organize a farmer to farmer conference to highlight and discuss successful no-till and conservation farming systems in use throughout the dryland cropping areas of the Pacific Northwest.

Objective 3. Organize “training of trainers” workshops to enhance the capacity of extension educators, NRCS personnel, and farmers to assist farmers in identifying and implementing no-till and conservation tillage farming systems appropriate for their environmental and economic practices.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Tim Fiez
  • R. Dennis Roe
  • Don Wysocki

Research

Research results and discussion:

Objective 1: Direct Seed Case Studies. During the first year of the project (1998), we identified case study candidates for the case studies and selected 15 farmers to feature in the case study series. We conducted 2-hour informal interviews with these growers and made multiple visits to their farms throughout the crop year. The multiple visits serve to build a trusting relationship with the farmers, gain a comprehensive understanding of their farming operations, and provide the opportunity to photo document the operations.

In early 1999, we obtained supplemental funding ($15,700) from the Solutions to Environmental and Economic Problems project (STEEP III) to: (1) produce two additional case studies, (2) use a full color, higher quality format for the publications, and (3) publish an additional 1,000 copies (2,000 total) of each case study bulletin. In September 1999, one of the 17 cooperating growers decided to discontinue his involvement in the project for personal reasons, leaving us with a total of 16 growers to feature in case studies.

Three of the case studies were published in September 1999 (July 1999 print date shown). Within two months of their release, 1,300 to 1,500 of the 2,000 copies of each bulletin were distributed, mainly through county extension and NRCS offices.

The next six publication were published between January and May 2000. Of the remaining 7 case study publications, 4 are in the layout draft stage for printing, and 3 are beginning the layout stage. A significant back log of large publications and shortage of editorial staff at WSU Cooperative Extension has delayed the expected completion date about 6 months from June 30 to about December 1, 2000.

These PNW Extension case study publications are available free through the grants from the Western SARE and PNW STEEP programs. They can be ordered through local PNW Cooperative Extension office or directly from the extension publication offices in Idaho (208) 885-7982, Oregon (541) 737-2513 and Washington (800) 723-1763. As soon as the publications go to press, they are also put on our PNW Conservation Tillage Systems Web site (http://pnwsteep.wsu.edu) — click on Direct Seed Case Studies for viewing, printing or downloading in PDF (Acrobat) format, just as they appear in the printed form. The first item on this Web page is an “Overview of the Series,” which briefly describes the format of the publications, and identifies the growers, farm locations, and common crop rotations.

Because of the high demand for these case study publication, we decided early in 2000 to pool available funds remaining in this SARE grant (rebudgeted unused travel funds, etc.), the STEEP III supplemental grant and funding from other complimentary projects to print an additional 1000 copies of each of the 16 case study publications (total of 3000 copies each).

The following are the publications numbers and titles of the 16 direct seed case study publications printed in the Pacific Northwest Extension publication series on “Direct Seeding in the Inland Northwest” for Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

1. PNW514: John Rea Farm Case Study
2. PNW515: Aeschliman Farm Case Study
3. PNW516: Frank Lange Farm Case Study
4. PNW52 1: Paul Williams Farm Case Study
5. PNW522: Riggers Farm Case Study
6. PNW523: Thomas Farm Case Study
7. PNW524: Ensley Farm Case Study
8. PNW526: Melville Farm Case Study
9. PNW527: Barker / Shoun Farm Case Study
10. PNW528: Jirava Farm Case Study
11. PNW529: Jensen Farm Case Study
12. PNW530: Schultheis Farm Case Study
13. PNW53 1: Mader / Rust Farm Case Study
14. PNW540: Jepsen Farm Case Study
15. PNW541: Mosman Farm Case Study
16. PNW542: Zenner Farm Case Study

The first 9 publications are printed and attached. Copies of the remaining 7 publications will be forwarded to the SARE office as soon as they are completed later in 2000. All of the publications will be accessible on the Internet (http://pnwsteep.wsu.edu), click on Direct Seed Case Studies.

Objective 2: Northwest Direct Seed Cropping Systems Conferences. The first Northwest Direct Seed Cropping Systems Conference was held in Pasco, WA on Jan. 7-8, 1998 and attracted an enthusiastic audience of nearly 900 NW growers and Ag advisers attending (compared to the typical 200 400 attending regional no-till and conservation tillage conferences the previous 18 years). The Conference was developed as a service to Northwest growers through the Pacific Northwest STEEP III (Solutions To Environmental and Economic Problems) research and educational program on conservation tillage cropping systems, Columbia Plateau Wind Erosion / PM 10 program, and this Western SARE project. Monsanto and 13 other Ag service and equipment companies co sponsored the Conference, in cooperation with PNW grain grower, conservation district, pea and lentil, and oilseed associations, and other Ag support groups and agencies.

The program, arranged in seven 2- to 3-hr focus sessions, featured 48 speakers who included: 16 growers from PNW, Australia, and Canada; 11 Ag industry representatives; and 13 researchers and Ag organizations from the PNW, South Dakota and Indiana. Focus session topics included: international trends and experiences with direct seeding, alternative crops and rotations, advances in direct seeding and intensive cropping in low/intermediate and high rainfall areas, new industry development in direct seeding equipment, tillage and direct seeding impacts on soil quality and productivity, and grower drill modification and fabrication for direct seeding. This Conference helped to demonstrate how new technologies for direct seed systems and more intensive crop rotations are revolutionizing farming systems across the Northwest and around the world.

1998 Conference Proceedings: A detailed 150-page Conference Proceedings of speaker papers was completed and distributed at the Conference. Additional copies were printed and over 170 copies have been sold. The Proceeding was also put on the PNW Conservation Tillage Systems Web site (http://pnwsteep.wsu.edu) under the new Conference section.

1998 Conference Videotapes: Videotapes of the seven Conference Focus Sessions were available for loan or purchase two weeks after the Conference and were promoted throughout the region for use in 1998 winter meetings. There have been over 45 videos loaned and 105 purchased.

The 1999 Northwest Direct Seed Cropping Systems Conference and Trade Show was held January 5-7, 1999 at the International Ag Trade Center / Convention Center and DoubleTree Hotel City Center in Spokane, WA. The Conference was organized by the PNW STEEP Extension Cropping Systems Team (Veseth was coordinator) as a major Northwest educational public awareness effort for growers and Ag related audiences on new farming systems to control erosion and improve profitability and soil productivity. Nearly 25,000 brochures were distributed through enclosures in other mailings, direct mailing, distribution at meeting, etc., and a total of ten news releases were distributed (Attachment 2 in the 1999 SARE project report). The Conference was attended by over 940 NW growers and Ag support personnel.

Like the 1998 Conference, this 1999 Conference and Trade Show was organized as a service to NW growers through the PNW STEEP III program, Columbia Plateau Wind Erosion / PM 10 program, this WSU Western SARE No Till project and other related programs. The Conference was co sponsored by over 10 Ag support companies in cooperation with 11 PNW grower commodity and conservation district associations and other Ag support groups and agencies. The program featured 37 speakers, including 14 researchers and 7 industry representatives and 16 growers from across the Pacific Northwest, Northern Great Plains, Canada, Argentina, and Brazil. Three of the grower speakers are also featured in the PNW direct seed case study publications. (See Attachment 3 in the 1999 report for the Proceedings from the Conference.)

Direct Seed Systems Trade Show: At the request of growers and Ag industry in the evaluation of the 1998 Conference, a new commercial Trade Show was added as a special feature of the 1999 Conference to provided growers, Ag industry and researchers more opportunities to discuss technology needs and share new innovations. It featured 27 commercial exhibits of equipment, products and services related to direct seed cropping systems.

Research Poster Exhibition: As part of the Direct Seed Systems Trade Show, a Research Poster Exhibition featured nine posters on research related to direct seed cropping systems from the Northwest and Canada. A poster of this SARE project was included in the Poster Exhibition with early release copies of the first three direct seed case study series publication provided as handouts.

Conference Proceedings: The 225-page Proceedings provides a detailed summary of the 37 speaker presentations (see Attachment 2 in 1999 project report). The entire Proceedings can be accessed on the Conference Internet site (http://pnwsteep.wsu.edu/DirectSeed) or ordered from the Conference office. Over 120 Proceedings have been distributed since the Conference.

Digital Quality Videos: The seven Focus Sessions, ranging from 1 hour to 6 hours, were videotaped with a high quality digital camera. The resulting series of 10 videotapes were available on loan (in the Pacific Northwest) and for sale at $15 each within two weeks after the Conference. There have been 10 video loans and 30 purchases.

Objective 3: “Training the trainers.” Two training sessions were conducted in the fall of 1999 to introduce NRCS and conservation district staff to the case study publications and the major advantages and challenges of no-till and minimum tillage systems. Ten NRCS staff from the four Blue Mountain counties in southeast Washington attended the training in Pomeroy, WA on September 21, and 30 Division 2 staff of the Idaho conservation districts and NRCS attended a similar program in Moscow, ID on October 15.

Research conclusions:

This project has the potential to increase the number of farmers in the tri-state region who successfully adopt no-till and conservation tillage. By sharing the experiences of established no-till growers, we hope to encourage others to try no-till and help avoid the pitfalls and economic stress that come with adopting a new system. But the impact goes beyond that. No-till itself can help conserve and improve the soil resources, conserve moisture, and help farmers reduce costs and improve profitability.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

The overarching goal of this project is to disseminate the advances of innovative soil conservation oriented growers to other growers, and to university, industry, and government personnel. All three objectives — the case studies, the direct seed conferences and the training work toward this goal. The case studies are available in hard copy form from county extension and NRCS offices, as well as from the extension bulletins offices at Washington State University, University of Idaho, and Oregon State University. From 300 to 1,800 copies of each of the first six case studies have been distributed so far. The case studies are also available on the Internet (pnwsteep.wsu.edu; click on direct seed case studies).

The 1998 Northwest Direct Seed Cropping Systems Conference not only provided farmer-based and research-based information to the growers and other agriculturists who attended, it also reached countless others in the form of numerous articles about the conference and conference topics, published in the major regional agriculture newspaper, The Capital Press (Pacific Northwest agri-forestry weekly; circulation over 70,000). Sections of the Conference Proceedings were also reprinted in two issues of Wheat Life, the monthly official publication of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (circulation over 15,000). (See Conference Appendix in 1998 Report).

Promotional efforts for the 1999 Conference also it also reached a wide audience through ten news releases about the conference and conference topics that were published in many of the Northwest regional Ag publications, some national publications and Web sites, and daily / weekly newspapers (see Attachment 2 in the 1999 Report). Some of the main Ag publications included: Green Sheet, Washington Assoc. of Wheat Growers, Ritzville, WA; Agri Times Northwest, Pendleton, OR.; Seedsman Northwest. Yakima, WA; Idaho and Eastern Washington Oregon Farmer-Stockman, Logan, UT; Capital Press NW Agriculture Weekly, Salem, OR; Wheat Life, Washington Assoc. of Wheat Growers, Ritzville, WA; Blue Mtn. Ag Edition / Walla Walla Union Bulletin, Walla Walla, WA; Idaho Grain, Idaho Grain Producers Association, Boise, ID; The Growers’ Guide, Colfax, WA; USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council Bulletin, Moscow, ID; No Till Farmer, Brookfield, WI; Plains Drifter, Monsanto; Crop Science Soil Science Agronomy News, Crop Sci. Soc. of Amer. Soil Sci. Soc. of Amer. and Amer. Soc. of Agronomy, Madison, WI; Conservogram, Soil and Water Conservation Society, Ankeny, Iowa. The Conference proceedings and video also provided additional access to the Conference information (see the previous Conference description for more details).
The case study project also gained exposure via a poster presentation at the 1999 American Society of Agronomy meetings in Salt Lake City, Utah (November 1-5). Approximately 50 flyers describing the case study project and the bulletins were distributed (see Attachment 1 in the 1999 Report).

In early 2000, a promotional effort was initiated on the availability of the new PNW direct seed case study publications. An announcement was distributed February 11 to over 300 PNW Ag support personnel and growers on the new “PNW Direct Seed E-mail List Server” (Attachment 1). An article was included in the March 2000 issue of the PNW Conservation Tillage Update newsletter distributed to nearly 3000 PNW growers and Ag support personnel (Attachment 2). A PNW regional news release was distributed through the WSU College of Agriculture and Home Economics Information Department on March 24 (Attachment 3) and was carried in numerous publications across the Northwest. An article was included in the WSU Crop and Soil Sciences Dept. Field Day Proceedings published in May, with about 1,200 distributed at field days throughout eastern Washington in June and July (Attachment 4).

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Farmer Adoption

While we do not have any specific examples of farmers changing to no-till or a conservation tillage system as a result of this project, we do know that the interest and demand for farmer based knowledge of these systems is great. There has been a high demand for the case study bulletins. From 1,300 to 1,500 copies of the first three publications were requested within 2 months after printing. Over 900 growers and Ag support personnel attended the 1998 and 1999 Northwest Direct Seed Cropping Systems Conferences — a sharp increase over the 200 400 attendance at Northwest no-till and conservation tillage conferences in the past.

Reactions from Farmers and Ranchers

Case Study Review: In addition to going through the formal review process for an extension publication, we sent two of our initial case studies and a survey to five non case study growers and two Ag. advisors (extension and industry) to give us an idea if we were on the right track before we started to write the others. All reviewers said that the case studies would help other growers understand the benefits and challenges of direct seeding, encourage others to try direct seeding, and help them be successful. Specific suggestions from the reviewers were incorporated into the case studies.

1998 NW Direct Seed Conference Evaluation: Participants of the 1998 Direct Seed Intensive Cropping Conference were asked to complete an evaluation and provide input on plans for the 1999 Conference. Based on a 1 to 5 scale (1 = poor; 5 = excellent), growers gave the overall Conference a 4.4 average rating and 99% felt that the Conference will help increase the success and adaptation of direct seed systems in the Northwest. An abbreviated summary of the 1998 Conference evaluations was attached to the 1998 Project Report.

1999 NW Direct Seed Conference Evaluations: 100% of the Conference evaluation respondents felt the Conference will help increase the adaptation and success of direct seed cropping systems in the Northwest, and 99% indicated that they would attend a similar Conference in 2000. See Attachment 3 in the 1999 Report for an abbreviated summary of the evaluations.

Producer Involvement:

A total of 57 growers have been directly involved in this project. Sixteen and 11 growers gave presentations about their conservation tillage and no-till operations at the 1998 and 1999 Northwest Direct Seed Conferences, respectively. Twenty five growers have been interviewed, with 17 of those visited multiple times, for the case study publications. Five growers served as reviewers of the first two case studies produced.

Numbers of farmers/ranchers in attendance at:
__0__Workshops
_1840_Conferences (total for 1998 and 1999 Conferences)
__0__Field Days
__0__Other Events (specify)

Recommendations:

Areas needing additional study

A number of interesting issues have arisen in the course of this project that are related to the “softer” approach we are taking. The information we are reporting in the case studies is collected primarily through interviews with the case study growers. We visit their fields many times during the growing season, but mostly we rely on the farmers’ records, recollections and perceptions. Understandably, some of the growers may censor or alter the information they provide us to present their operations in the best light possible. In other cases a grower may give an explanation that is not scientifically valid. In the development of the case studies, our first priority is to maintain the farmers’ trust, but we also feel it is our responsibility to listen with some measure of skepticism. If a question arose that couldn’t be cleared up with the farmer, we would check with regional experts. Our goal was to create case studies that both the growers and we felt were accurate.

A related issue is how to handle politically charged issue in the case studies. In our case the issue of field burning is an extremely controversial practice in the Northwest. Burning of bluegrass fields has already been banned in Washington State and interest is now turned to other agricultural burning and other states as well. Yet some no till growers say they must bum crop residues to be able to no till seed their next crop. We do not think that growers who rely on fire are poor no tillers, but we have chosen to focus on growers who are actively seeking viable alternatives to fire since it may not be an option in the future.

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.