Annual Spring Cropping in the Pacific Northwest
Low-Rainfall Region By
Sandy Miller Hays
July 20, 2007
Planting annual spring wheat, especially using no-till, is excellent
for wind erosion control in the low-rainfall region of the Pacific Northwest.
However, in dry years it does not pay the bills.
A joint study by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and Washington State University (WSU) scientists on Ron Jirava's wheat farm near
Ritzville, Wash., from 1997 to 2004, showed that average net returns for
no-till annual spring cropping lagged behind the conventional winter
wheat-summer fallow rotation by $24 to $29 an acre.
WSU's William F. Schillinger led the study. ARS participants were
Kennedy, a soil scientist in the
Land Management and Water Conservation Unit, and
Paulitz, a plant pathologist in the
Root Disease and Biological Control Research Unit, both at Pullman.
With just 11 inches of precipitation a year, parts of the Pacific
Northwest are so dry that farmers traditionally plant a crop only every other
year to give the soil a year in which to store enough moisture to allow another
crop to grow. Many use intensive tillage, which often leaves soil exposed to
erosion that causes air quality problems because of increased windborne
According to WSU agricultural economist Douglas Young, returns from
growing no-till spring wheat every year were competitive with the
tillage-based, winter wheat-summer fallow system from 1997 to 2000, when
average to above-average precipitation occurred. However, in the dry years of
2001-2004, annual no-till spring wheat yields were significantly lower than the
winter wheat-summer fallow system.
This study showed that spring wheat can be successfully produced in
the low-rainfall regions of the Pacific Northwest during wet years. In dry
years, spring wheat is very risky, and a safer and more economical option is
winter wheat-summer fallow. In related research, WSU and ARS scientists have
successfully developed the ultra low soil disturbance "undercutter method" of
tillage for winter wheat-summer fallow farming that represents a win-win for
farmers and the environment.
about the research in the July 2007 issue of Agricultural Research
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.