Saving Water and Improving Soil Health Through LESA, Cover Crops, No-Till, and Management Intensive Grazing

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2017: $20,000.00
Projected End Date: 10/31/2020
Grant Recipient: Pat Purdy
Region: Western
State: Idaho
Principal Investigator:
Pat Purdy
Pat Purdy


  • Agronomic: barley
  • Animals: bovine


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, grazing management, grazing - rotational
  • Crop Production: cover crops, crop rotation, fertilizers, no-till
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, mentoring
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, feasibility study
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement, soil stabilization, wildlife
  • Production Systems: integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: green manures, nutrient mineralization, organic matter, soil analysis, soil microbiology, soil quality/health

    Proposal summary:

    This project has two components:

    1) A replicated trial using LESA (Low Elevation Spray Application) to monitor water savings and promote water conservation

    2) An on-farm demonstration of using cover crops, management intensive grazing (MIG), and no-till to monitor whether yields are maintained for malt barley compared to a conventional system.


    LESA is a newly engineered irrigation system for Idaho producers that extends drop hose length to place sprinkler heads one foot above the soil surface. This irrigation technology was developed by UI Extension Irrigation Specialist, Howard Neibling. While being in a high desert climate, water conservation is increasingly a high priority for agriculture producers. Consecutive years of seasonably low snow-pack levels in Idaho and new norm high temperatures in the West have created significant drought circumstances in Southern Idaho. Settlement provisions of a long-standing lawsuit between surface water users and groundwater appropriators requires reduction in ground water pumping of approximately 13% in about one million irrigated acres in Southern Idaho.

    Therefore, adoption of changes in irrigation equipment design and management that conserve water while maintaining crop yield and quality will help minimize the long-term impact on irrigated agriculture. With the high winds typical in southern Idaho, LESA was designed to reduce water loss from wind drift and evaporation. In addition, malting barley (a high-value crop) can be susceptible to many common cereal diseases, such as stripe rust. LESA technology was designed to apply water below cereal head height, to help lower disease pressure and reduce lodging on wheat and barley. Ultimately, the LESA technology has shown to reduce water usage by more than 20%. Therefore, this project will advance the adoption of LESA technology by testing and showcasing the water-savings with LESA in a barley system that incorporates additional sustainable practices (no-till, cover cropping, and MIG). The research results and outreach will help producers in the intermountain west evaluate the water savings from LESA and help increase adoption of this technology.

    Cover Crops, No-Till, and Management Intensive Grazing

    As a result of multiple cover crop research trials and outreach efforts throughout Idaho with the University of Idaho Extension, NRCS, and a previously funded WSARE R&E grant, many growers are utilizing cover crops in their cropping system. Many of these growers are also experimenting with grazing these cover crops, under MIG. The use of grazing in a cover crop system provides added feed as well as the additional soil benefits from manure and hoof cover crop incorporation. Currently, the next phase of sustainability with planting and grazing cover crops, is a no-till management strategy. Therefore, I want to utilize this on-farm demonstration to determine whether these practices can still provide comparable barley yields. This data will be very valuable for my operation as well as other producers looking to adopt one or all of these three practices, while maintaining yields.

    In order to determine commercial fertilizer reduction, our team will replicate three strips of varying nitrogen application rates after year two. For example, one treatment will be 100% of my typical fertilizer use, the second treatment will be reduced by 30%, and the third treatment will be reduced by 50%. We will compare the yields of these varying fertilizer treatments. This information will allow me to know how much I can reduce my commercial fertilizer application while maintaining my average yields. I hope to reduce my fertilizer use with these practices by more than 50%.

    Working closely with my technical advisors, the outreach components of this project will include 2 field tours, 1-2 UI Extension

    Publications, and an estimated 3-6 grower and professional presentations at agricultural schools throughout southern Idaho as well as other targeted producer schools and professional conferences in the West (i.e. Utah, Nevada, Montana, Oregon). As a result of this project’s outreach, we expect to reach over 5,000 producers.

    The Purdy Family Ranch

    This project will be conducted by the Purdy family on the ground of Picabo Livestock Company (PLC) near Picabo, Idaho. Picabo is a

    high-desert area south of the Sun Valley ski resort. The world-famous trout stream, Silver Creek, flows through the Picabo area and much of the land of PLC surrounds the stream. A fishing club, fly shop, guiding & outfitting business and upland game and water-fowl hunting club are all part of PLC’s enterprise mix, so protecting this critical fishery is a top priority for the Purdy family.

    Decades of traditional farming practices (which include winter fallow) in the area around Silver Creek have resulted in thousands of tons of silt being deposited into the river. Much of the irrigation water used to supply crops in the surrounding area comes either directly from Silver Creek or is pumped from the aquifer that supplies this spring-fed stream. Therefore, this project will provide the instigation needed to increase not only cover crop adoption, but also the use of no-till, in the Picabo farming community, to maintain the integrity of this highly unique and world-renown spring-fed stream.

    Myself, Pat Purdy, from the Purdy Family will be the lead farmer on this project. I am a board member of the Idaho Barley Commission and I sit on the University of Idaho College of Agricultural and Life Sciences advisory board. As a model farmer in the area, and my role on various committees, I plan to use my local and statewide networks to share the knowledge gained from this study with other growers around the state.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Reduce water-use and water-loss through LESA.
    2. Maintain comparable barley yields with the incorporation of cover crops, MIG, and no-till.
    3. Determine the economic viability of utilizing management intensive grazing of annual seeded cover crops as part of a cash crop rotation system by measuring the market value of the weight gain of the cattle during the cover crop grazing period.
    4. Reduce commercial fertilizer input by 30-50%, while maintaining average yields, through the use of cover crops, MIG, and no-till.
    5. Reduce soil erosion by eliminating bare soil with the use of cover crops.
    6. Improve wildlife habitat by eliminating winter fallow.
    7. Achieve an integrated sustainable agriculture system that improves soil health and maintains profits with comparable barley yields and animal weight gain.
    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.