By MATTHEW WEAVER
The Pacific Northwest Direct Seed Association will begin a new certification program this year.
Information about the Certified Sustainable Farm program will be available during the association's annual meeting, beginning at 11:30 a.m. Feb. 6 at the Spokane Convention Center and DoubleTree Hotel, during the Spokane Ag Expo and Pacific Northwest Farm Forum.
Executive director Kay Meyer said the goal is to eventually stamp products in the grocery store with a certification logo. The association will also educate consumers about the meaning and benefits of direct seeding practices.
She said direct seeding reduces soil erosion by 90 percent compared to conventional tillage.
"We're documenting that and validating that practice," she said. "We will be able to market certification and certified farms and the products they've raised."
Wheat farmers primarily use direct seeding, so products like bread, pizza crust and noodles could potentially bear the certification logo. Other crops include garbanzo beans and barley, Meyer said.
The association has partnered with the state Department of Ecology to develop the certification, Meyer said. She said the department acknowledges that a farmer with the certification meets all of the state's water quality requirements.
"There will be a definite value with the regulatory agencies," she said. "We're going to work on building the value from an industry market standpoint."
The association is also building financial support for research specific to direct seeding.
Meyer said the soil composition changes "drastically" in direct seeding compared to conventional tillage, with more organic matter, water infiltration, moisture and earthworms and lower temperatures due to shading by residue.
"There's just a slightly different amount of disease, pests, varieties that thrive in a situation like that," she said. "All those things need to be looked at when you're looking at varieties and how to overcome issues without tillage."
There were slightly less than 200 association members in 2012. Meyer hopes to see the number increase in 2013. The organization is also working with conservation districts to conduct a survey of direct seed acreage in the Pacific Northwest.
Meyer believes there's been enough research and innovation to make direct seeding much more mainstream.
"Ten years ago, you're looking at small percentages down in the 10 percent range," she said. "Now, we feel we're up in the 40-50 percent and some people think even 60 percent of farms are in some sort of low-disturbance, minimum-till operation."
Jason Huntley of Endicott, Wash., recently became the association's president, replacing Rick Jones of Wilbur, Wash.