Soil Quality Assessment of Long-Term Direct Seed to Optimize Production

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2012: $193,448.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: Western
State: Washington
Principal Investigator:
Ann Kennedy
Washington State University/ARS

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: barley, canola, wheat, grass (misc. perennial), hay


  • Animal Production: feed/forage
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: decision support system, demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, mentoring, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop, youth education
  • Farm Business Management: agricultural finance, risk management
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration, biodiversity, indicators, soil stabilization
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil analysis, nutrient mineralization, soil microbiology, soil chemistry, soil physics, soil quality/health

    Proposal abstract:

    Producers in the Pacific Northwest, United States and worldwide are adopting direct seed farming to reduce soil erosion, improve soil quality, increase water infiltration and reduce number of passes with farm equipment. Direct seed farming creates the physical conditions of surface-managed residues and undisturbed soil that leave soil less susceptible to wind and water erosion and keeps more soil on the land.

    Direct seed producers are concerned about not reaching the yield and profit potential that was expected with long-term direct seed. This may be due to unique soil horizonation caused by lack of soil disturbance that makes nutrients unavailable for plant uptake due to pH, electrical conductivity (EC) or banding of nutrients in a zone.

    We will investigate the soil quality of twelve long-term direct seed sites to identify those characteristics that play a part in limiting yield potential. With these factors identified, management options can be investigated and strategies developed to obtain sustainable systems.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Our objectives are to:

    1) Evaluate, incrementally with depth, soil quality of long-term direct seed fields across landscape in relation to crop yield parameters;

    2)Evaluate management options to remedy the yield-limiting soil characteristics;

    3) Compute the effects on profitability of management remedies to sustain long-term direct seed yields; and

    4) Inform producers, land managers, agri-business personnel and landlords about the agronomic and economic benefits of direct seed cropping systems and also the management options to remedy soil quality and yield potential concerns.

    We will collect soil from direct seed and undisturbed sites in eastern Washington and northern Idaho in 2.5 cm increments for the first 10 cm, and 5 cm increments thereafter to 20 cm at four landscape positions. We propose to analyze for the physical, chemical and biological parameters of soil quality. At harvest, we will sample residue and grain or seed for nutritional quality and fiber analysis. If pH, compaction and micronutrients are limiting yield or resiliency in direct seed systems, then management efforts will be directed to improve these factors using various treatments in field plots studies. Enterprise budgeting will be used to compute treatment effects on profitability based on three-year average yield responses in the plot studies and the total and variable costs of the management treatments. This research will further our knowledge of soil quality and assist in developing profitable best management practices for direct seed systems. Educational materials will be developed to educate producers about direct seed systems and practices to enhance soil quality. Publications will include scientific journal articles and extension publications for producers, land managers, landlords, lenders and agricultural professionals, as well as scientists, industry personnel and extension agents.

    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.