Direct-seeding effort back on track
COLTON, Wash. — The use of direct-seeding in the Pacific Northwest is on the rise, and supporters say it’s in large part due to the efforts of a revitalized regional organization that promotes the farming practice.
More than half of the farmers in the Pacific Northwest have adopted direct-seeding, said Kay Meyer. As executive director of the nonprofit Pacific Northwest Direct Seed Association, her job is to spread information about the benefits of direct-seeding to farmers.
The organization’s president credits her with putting the organization back in a growth mode.
“She’s been the lifesaver of our association,” said the president, John McNabb, an Inkom, Idaho, farmer.
In 2010, the association took a hiatus from its annual conference for financial reasons, and the organization suffered as a result. The group hired Meyer in 2012 to help get it back on track.
“She’s a wealth of knowledge,” McNabb said.
“Not many executive directors have her background with direct-seed,” said Dan Harwood, association secretary and coordinator for the Palouse-Rock Lake Conservation District in St. John, Wash. “She is very insightful and creative. She understands agriculture, she understands farmers. She can assist producers to look at the present and the future.”
Meyer is developing partnerships with agricultural associations and state and federal agencies across the region, Harwood said.
The sense that more growers are direct-seeding is based on anecdotal reports and a Spokane Conservation District and University of Idaho “windshield study” in parts of Idaho and Washington several years ago, Meyer said. There hasn’t been a specific study, she said.
The biggest growth in direct-seeding has been in low rainfall zones because of the improvement in moisture retention and increased yields, she said.
Meyer comes from a farm family — one that uses direct-seeding.
She grew up on a farm near Uniontown, Wash., which her father and two brothers operate today. The family switched to direct-seeding in 2000.
Meyer owns Red Barn Farms in Colton, Wash., with her husband, Ty, production agriculture manager for the Spokane Conservation District. They have converted Ty’s family’s cattle ranch into an event venue and keep 20 acres for alfalfa, Timothy hay, grass and oat production.
Direct-seeding farming systems seed and fertilize in one or two passes directly into the crop residue and root structure of the previous year’s crop. Specialized equipment opens a narrow seed row in the soil, and plants grow up through that seed row. Other more conventional types of farming involve tillage that turns over the soil.
Improves soil, saves money
Direct-seeding makes sense because of the efficiencies a farmer gains, Meyer said, citing savings on diesel fuel and machinery, and the expense of hiring a large crew isn’t necessary for field work. The farming method also improves soil health, she says.
Meyer believes direct-seeding will eventually be adopted by most farmers, as younger people enter the industry who are comfortable with the newer technology.
Direct-seeding will also help farmers meet mounting environmental regulation pressures. Meyers believes farmers will soon only be able to benefit from some government programs if they use conservation practices.
The association is working with the state Department of Ecology to recognize a direct-seeded field as a filter strip, similar to Conservation Reserve Program land or a riparian grass buffer, she said.
The organization’s major outreach event is its annual conference, held in partnership in January with the Washington State University Biofuels Project in the Tri-Cities. The association has 220 members and sends newsletters to 600 affiliates.
Getting farmers to change their mindset from conventional farming to accept direct-seeding has been a challenge, Meyer said.
“There’s still some people who think, ‘It won’t work on my farm,’ even though their neighbor is successful, and they still think their neighbor is lucky,” she said. “More than 25 years ago, there were some failures with equipment, and that has still left people with the perception that it won’t work.”
But Meyer believes direct-seeding is proving itself on various soil types, across regions and rainfall zones.
“It’s really all about a cropping system — healthy soil that’s productive and can be sustainable for 25 to 30 years more, so you can pass it down to the next generation,” she said.
Title: Executive director, Pacific Northwest Direct Seed Association
Hometown: Uniontown, Wash.
Current location: Colton, Wash.
Education: Bachelor degree in business, master’s degree in business administration, Washington State University
Family: Husband, Ty; son, Jackson, 11; daughter, Maggie, 9