Madison County Healthy Soil Initiative

2016 Annual Report for OW15-032

Project Type: Professional + Producer
Funds awarded in 2015: $50,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Western
State: Idaho
Principal Investigator:
Robbie Taylor
Madison SWCD

Madison County Healthy Soil Initiative


Madison Soil and Water Conservation District

conducts study to provide information on the benefits of practicing sound Soil Health practices

The Madison Soil & Water Conservation District located in Rexburg, Madison County, Idaho is conducting a study as part of the Madison County Soil Health Initiative to provide data that show sound Soil Health Practices such as Cover Crops, No-Tillage/Minimum Tillage, Variable Rate Fertilizing and diverse crop rotations will improve soil productivity, conserve irrigation water, increase resource savings, reduce erosion and be economically viable to agricultural producers. 2016 is the second year of this three year study.  One of the main goals of this project is to reduce dependency on chemical applications.  The second main goal is to improve the soils organic matter.  It is very difficult for most producers to change their farming practices.  They generally will say “I will watch my neighbor as they change practices to see how well the new practices are working.  That way I don’t have to worry about crop failures if the new practices don’t work”.  We are so thankful for the producers participating in this study who are on the cutting edge and willing to lead the way with cover crops, sound crop rotations, reducing and changing the way they fertilize and ever changing ways of irrigating crops.  One of the benefits of this study is that other producers are interested in the study results.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Utilizing five agricultural producers and 14 fields, partnering with the Natural Resource Conservation Service, SIMPLOT Grower Solutions soil samples and tests were taken to establish a beginning base line for both physical and biological properties of the soil. These fields are being monitored for three years using same soil testing and analysis procedures to determine changes due to adoption of soil health practices.  2016 was our second year of monitoring.  In addition, the producers are tracking and recording crop production inputs and outputs along with costs.  These inputs are being collected each of the three years to determine the cost effectiveness of the soil health practices.


Data continues to be collected on the 14 test fields as was mentioned in the summary. The five growers participating in this study are doing some very innovative conservation practices, not necessarily new, but missing from their traditional production of many years.  Because of mandatory water reduction through ever changing laws and regulations, Low Elevation Spray Applications (LESA) is beginning to move ahead that will potentially reduce not only the amount of water but also reduce electricity and equipment costs while either increasing yields or keeping them close to traditional numbers.  Two growers are planting legumes (peas, alfalfa) and then thickening up with triticale following the cropping year and utilizing for grazing.  Then grow potatoes to utilize the nitrogen fixation as well as cattle waste the following spring.  One grower plants spring barley in the fall after potatoes to keep the soil stable.  In the spring he then replants spring barley.  This grower farms in very sandy soil near the St. Anthony sand dunes north west of Rexburg.  Over 600 acres of cover crops were planted in the fall of 2015 for utilization in the 2016 cropping year.

From the first year of the study (2015) to the second year of the study (2016), the following is what we have found from our participating growers.

Study Participant number 1

test field 1                                                                               test field 2

Barley to Potatoes                                                                 Wheat to Barley

very good yield                                                                       slight 2% decrease in yield

test field 3                                                                               test field 4

Potatoes to Wheat                                                                 Barley to Barley

good yield                                                                               increase in yield of 2%

With cereal (2 years) and potatoes (1 year) – costs for the grower is less due to the reduced amount of fertilizer and chemicals needed due to no tillage.

Study Participant number 2

test field 1                                                                               test field 2

Wheat                                                                                      Wheat

significant increase of 30 bu                                               slight increase of 2 bu

test field 3                                                                               test field 4

Wheat to Potatoes                                                                 Potatoes

Outstanding yield                                                                   yield decrease (potatoes following potatoes)

In wheat a decrease in cost average and in potatoes a slight increase in cost average.

This grower has been planting cover crops for the last three years. Has no tillage grain drill which reduced tillage costs 10 to 20 percent.

Grower is planning on planting two acres of no tillage potatoes in 2017.

Study Participant number 3

test field 1                                                                               test field 2

Potatoes to Barley                                                                 Potatoes to Wheat

increase in yield                                                                     see the statement below

Grower growing seed wheat. Obtained good yield for wheat grown for seed.  Higher expenses for wheat seed and associated practices.


Study Participant number 4

test field 1                                                                               test field 2

Barley to Barley                                                                      Barley to Barley

increase in yield                                                                      increase in yield

The increase in yields for both field 1 and field 2 were not highly significant but significant none the less. Expenses for both fields were up slightly.

Grower purchased a no tillage drill which reduces the costs of tillage.

Study Participant number 5

test field 1                                                                               test field 2

Barley  to Potatoes                                                                  Barley to Wheat

No statistical difference was noted                                        slight decrease in yield

The slight decrease in yield on test field 2 (wheat) is due to the conversion to the Low Elevation Spray Application (LESA) system. There was an increase in potatoes.  Water savings were from 1/3 to ½ of normal usage.  Very significant water savings.


The LESA system was introduced on a linear pivot. The advantage of this was the spray nozzle sizes were all the same.  The LESA tower was between the existing towers making it very easy to gather data.


The grower was concerned with erosion on a three percent slope. There was no erosion.


A grain field after harvest utilizing cover crops and no tillage practices

A cover crop demonstration during the 2016 annual Madison SWCD’s soil health workshop and tour

A Low Elevation Spray Application (LESA) system installed on a irrigation pivot system at work outside Rexburg, Idaho

The benefits of a no tillage drill being discussed at the 2016 annual Madison SWCD’s soil health workshop and tour

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes


General project awareness among agriculture producers continues to be created. Additional interest also continues to increase throughout Eastern Idaho as more and more growers become aware of soil health practices.  Articles covering soil health have increased in the local news media.  Environmental Quality Initiative Program (EQIP) signups continue to be offered with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).  Additional Conservation Districts in Eastern Idaho continue to conduct workshops and tours highlighting soil health practices and future workshops and tours are being scheduled.  In the short period of this study we have found soil erosion control, better water infiltration, better water holding capacity and the soil structure improving through top soil and organic matter.


Conn Crapo

[email protected]
Skyline Farms
1980 E. 500 N.
St. Anthony, ID 83445
Terry Wilcox

[email protected]
Agriculture Producer
Floyd Wilcox & Sons
1110 Golden Beauty Drive
Rexburg, ID 83440
Roy Jeppesen

Agriculture Producer
Jeppesen Brothers Ranch
1075 N. 9th E.
Rexburg, ID 83440
Ken Beckmann

[email protected]
District Conservationist
302 Profit Street
Rexburg, ID 83440
Office Phone: 2083565701
Jeff Parkinson

[email protected]
Agriculture Producer
Desert Gem Cover Crops
6303 N. 6000 W.
Rexburg, ID 83440
Greg Blaser

[email protected]
District Board Chairman
Madison SWCD
5448 North 5000 West
Rexburg, ID 83440
Office Phone: 2086560662
Boyd Smith

[email protected]
Agriculture Producer
Brandon Run
4371 S. 5500 W.
Rexburg, ID 83440