|Fields of hay, wheat and canola spread across rolling hills in south Spokane County.|
The Pacific Northwest Direct Seed Association, an organization of direct-seed producers in Idaho, Oregon and Washington, collaborated with Ecology and others to develop a certification for farms where dryland crops are grown and managed in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way. This unique approach is a win for farms and environmental health.
Certified farms tout improvements in their operations including improved air and water quality, better soil health and wildlife habitat, and reduction of fuel use – reducing carbon footprint and keeping carbon in the soil.
The added bonus is that Ecology is confident that certified farms are protecting the environment so compliance efforts can be focused elsewhere.
On Wednesday, July 13, Ecology Director Maia Bellon and PNDSA President Douglas Poole formalized an agreement giving Farmed Smart certified farms safe harbor from water quality regulations in Washington.
“Certified farms are applying voluntary practices that we know protect water quality,” said Director Bellon during a recent farm tour. “We’re excited to stand beside the program and support an approach that shows clean water on working lands doesn’t require a one-size-fits-all solution.”
The agreement outlines four major components that allow Ecology to maintain responsibility and authority for protecting water quality and other environmental values while giving certified farms safe harbor. These include:
- Tillage practices like direct seed significantly reduce erosion and keeps soil in the fields.
- Buffers and grass filter strips on streams and rivers protect water quality and aquatic habitat.
- Precision agriculture technology reduces chemical and fertilizer use and the potential for those chemicals to reach water.
- Eliminating crop burning (except under rare circumstances) helps maintain healthy air quality.
The programA group of like-minded farmers interested in sustainable farming practices came together to develop the Farmed Smart program in 2013.
“We recognized that the direct-seed cropping systems used to more efficiently manage resources can also satisfy many environmental protection requirements,” said PNDSA Executive Director Kay Meyer. “Sitting at the table with Ecology and others, we developed mutual respect and a quality program that benefits both farms and the environment.”
The Farmed Smart certification focuses on six aspects of environmental protection:
- Improving water quality – by reducing soil disturbance, reducing soil erosion, precision placement of fertilizers, and implementing buffer strips along water sources.
- Improving air quality – by leaving crop stubble on the field to avoid wind erosion, reducing fuel emissions from equipment and smoke from field burning.
- Improving soil quality - by reducing tilling, which increases organic matter, earthworm activity, and crop yield potential.
- Improving wildlife habitat – by providing food and cover for wildlife and fish habitats.
- Conserving energy and reducing carbon footprint – by planting in one to two passes, which significantly reduces fossil fuel and holds carbon in the soil.
- Improving economic viability and sustainability – by reducing the costs of fuel, labor, and chemicals through precision agriculture and direct seeding practices this ensures the family farm can continue to produce a safe food supply for the growing population.
The program is off and running. Early-adopters have already been through the third-party certification process and there are 14 certified farms ranging from Uniontown to Almira. By 2017 the Farmed Smart program expects to have 44 farms certified, helping protect 20 miles of stream.
“We’re farming differently, using a system with virtually no erosion and chemical runoff,” said Farmed Smart certified producer Rob Dewald who farms near Ritzville and Davenport. “We’re building root structure and healthy soil by keeping the ground covered, which greatly improves water and air quality.”
You can find more information about the Farmed Smart Program at www.directseed.org
By Brook Beeler, communications manager, eastern region