Photo showing a field using conventional tillage practices.
Thousands of tons of soil slough off into the Palouse River and Hangman Creek every year. When this happens, farmers lose valuable soil, and rivers and streams become polluted with sediment. Nutrient pollution and farm chemicals often “hitchhike” on these particles into the water.
Direct seeding is the practice of seeding a crop into the standing straw of the previous crop while only slightly disturbing the ground. Researchers have shown it reduces soil erosion by as much as 95 percent. The straw and roots from the previous crop remain in place and hold on to the soil on the steep Palouse hillsides.
The Department of Ecology wanted a better understanding of the extent of the soil erosion problem in the region, so three water quality experts set out for several days in April to observe what was happening on the ground. Watershed assessments are done each year, but this year’s focus was on soil erosion. The team looked at more than 400 farm fields and covered 600 road miles.
“We observed a lot of soil erosion in conventional farming systems, and almost no erosion from direct seeded fields,” Atkins said. “The difference was like night and day. The farmers who have invested in the change to direct seeding are doing a great service protecting our rivers and streams.”
In conventional systems, farmers make six to eight passes over the field with implements that plow or till the soil to prepare for planting. Atkins saw signs that soil was leaving fields by the ton and entering ditches and streams. This soil eventually ends up in the Spokane and Palouse rivers.
See the full news release here .