No/low-till practices as a water conservation tool on small-scale vegetable farms East of the Cascades

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2022: $29,896.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2023
Host Institution Award ID: G357-22-W8613
Grant Recipient: Sweet Union Farm, LLC
Region: Western
State: Oregon
Principal Investigator:
Katie Swanson
Sweet Union Farm, LLC

Information Products


  • Vegetables: other


  • Crop Production: drought tolerance, no-till
  • Education and Training: networking

    Proposal summary:

    This project explores how no or low-till practices can increase drought resilience. Farms in dry regions of Oregon are heavily impacted by climate change, particularly drought. Many of these farms employ creative practices to adapt and conserve water, but research specific to their region is sparse. Additionally, due to geographic isolation and time constraints, many farmers face these challenges alone.


    This project will establish a group of five small-scale vegetable farms in central and eastern Oregon to monitor the impacts of no/low-till practices on the level of plant-available water. Each farm will serve as a case study and will test two different practices while measuring water tension and collecting weather data. Since farmers don’t have time to visit each other during the growing season, videos will be taken at each farm site during the summer. Later in the off-season, the network will meet for discussion and share best practices. A video will be assembled as a multi-farm virtual tour and the cohort will present their findings at the OSU Small Farms Conference. The presentation and video will be converted to a blog post and webpage and distributed through regional agricultural networks.


    Empowering producers with data and opportunities to network will be essential in our efforts to farm in a changing climate. Farmers east of the Cascades have much to offer the discussion as they are already experiencing severe water shortages. This project may result in a broader network of drought-prone farms to serve all regions in facing the challenges ahead.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Research Objectives:

    Objective 1: Measure differences over one growing season in plant-available water between beds with no or low-till preparation and beds prepared with tillage.

    Objective 2: Monitor rainfall, temperature, humidity, and wind over one season and analyze correlations to changes in water tension in the soil.


    Education Objectives:

    Objective 1: Establish an educational network of five small-scale vegetable producers.

    Objective 2 Develop case studies and a demonstration video from the network farms

    Objective 3: Present findings and final video as a panel at the OSU Small Farms Conference in February 2023.

    Objective 4: Disseminate presentation and final video via five agricultural networks, including the Oregon Climate (OrCAN) and Agriculture Network and OSU Extension. 

    Objective 5: Host an online workshop to present research findings and case studies in partnership with OSU Extension.

    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.