SEEDING GOES DIRECT

April 02, 2002 12:00 am
AVAILABLE FOR LOAN: A range-land drill, recently purchased by the Union Soil and Water Conservation District, is a smaller version of the air-seed drill used by growers to plant seed and fertilizer. The district will loan the range-land drill to landowners who want to plant grass seed in pastures or along riparian areas. (The Observer/Alice Perry Linker).
AVAILABLE FOR LOAN: A range-land drill, recently purchased by the Union Soil and Water Conservation District, is a smaller version of the air-seed drill used by growers to plant seed and fertilizer. The district will loan the range-land drill to landowners who want to plant grass seed in pastures or along riparian areas. (The Observer/Alice Perry Linker).

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

Wheat grower Dale Case has been planting about 25 acres of seed without tilling for the past three years and so far hes pretty satisfied with the results.

Case is among a number of Union County farmers who have qualified for cost sharing from grants awarded specifically for direct seeding, which uses a drill to insert seed and fertilizer into the soil without previous tilling.

Steve Lindley of the Union Soil and Water Conservation District is administering the grants from the Bonneville Power Administration, the Oregon Water Enhancement Board and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The $125,000 in grant money will pay each qualifying farmer $12.50 per acre for up to 200 acres a year, Lindley said. The funds, distributed twice a year, will cover 3,200 acres a year for three years. Half the funds were given out in March, and the deadline for fall planting is April 30.

The interest from growers appears high, Lindley said.

We filled the 1,600 acres, he said.

The money is meant to offset the costs of renting the equipment and applying the herbicides.

The Union County Wheat Growers League was looking for ways to help farmers bear the costs of changing from traditional methods to direct seed, and Case said he hopes the program will encourage more farmers to try the innovative method of planting.

Lindley and Case say erosion control is one major advantage of direct seed.

Last winter, on my place, nothing blew, Case said.

In the windy areas of Union County, soil that has been plowed blows away, and you can see it piled up against the fences, Lindley said. In addition to causing a loss in topsoil, erosion sends sediment into streams and rivers, reducing the quality of water and fish habitat.

Farmers who participate in the SWCD cost-sharing plan for direct seed agree not to burn their fields after harvest.

This is an environment-friendly method, Lindley said. There are other alternatives that wed like people to use.

The alternatives include harrowing and flailing, and Lindley said if the yield is low, the stubble can be left on the ground to provide soil nutrients.

Lower yield in the early years can be a problem for growers who turn to direct seed.

Researchers arent 100 percent sure why theres a decline in yield, Lindley said. When you turn over the soil you do a better job mixing nitrogen. Other nutrients, acidity play a part.

Maximum yield is usually restored in five to six years, he said. Case said he does not know how his yield compares with traditional methods.

I havent got a handle on it, because weve had three years of drought, he said.

The Pendleton Experimental Station has estimated that growers could lose up to 10 bushels an acre, which at todays price would be about $30, Case said.

After three years of direct-seed, Case said the soil quality on his land has improved. Its mellow, has more organic matter instead of clay, he said. It breaks up easier.

With only one drill and equipment for herbicide spraying needed, farmers save money on equipment. About four or five area farmers, including Case and his brother Ron Case, have bought drills, and many lease them to other growers.

I hope to have continued productive years, Case said. Up to this point, direct seed has helped save equipment cost. Ive reduced my equipment by 75 percent.

The transition from traditional methods to direct seed is not simple. Weve all had some learning experience, Case said. Its not turn the page and it works. There are differences in soil, other conditions, and that makes a difference in what you do.

Those interested in applying for cost sharing may call Lindley at 963-0724, extension 113.