Western innovator: Farmer does his own research

John O'Connell/Capital Press Arbon Valley, Idaho, farmer Hans Hayden discusses the workings of a drill he retrofitted to utilize liquid fertilizer in direct seeding.


Capital Press

Snow mold is a recurrent problem in the higher elevations of Hans Hayden's dryland wheat farm in Southeast Idaho's Arbon Valley.

Rather than waiting on the latest research, however, Hayden has sought his own solutions. Hayden uses several test plots on his farm, both to assist in the University of Idaho's wheat breeding program and to research the various problems that surface on his farm.

"That's probably our biggest trial from year to year -- snow mold," Hayden said.

This year, however, snow mold was effectively controlled by a lack of snow cover, which allows the fungus to grow.

"That's an oddity. Two years ago it was around 40 percent," Hayden said.

Hayden has experimented with ways to melt snow over winter wheat to eliminate snow mold cover. In Northern Utah, he said researchers have tried spreading fly ash -- the soot generated by a coal-fired power plant. Others have used a mixture of graphite and fertilizer, a combination that Hayden described as "the worst, dirtiest job you could ever do" to spread. His own efforts have focused on discing a small patch and removing 3 inches of topsoil to apply to snow as dust.

"We're trying to develop the right kind of metering system to just use dust," Hayden said.

Other test plots on Hayden's farm explore the use of new seed treatment chemistries to control root diseases. His trials for U of I involve testing how winter wheat varieties under development respond to a dryland situation.

Jianli Chen, wheat breeder at the U of I Research and Extension Center in Aberdeen, Idaho, said Hayden also assisted the previous two wheat breeders and is one of two growers currently helping her breeding program with test plots.

"He knows what growers like and want. He always gives the breeders his input on marketing needs," Chen said. "I wanted to continue this collaboration with Hans not only on the land use, but also for his experience."

Hayden has also furthered the body of knowledge on direct-seeding on his farm. He did his master's thesis at Brigham Young University on chemical fallow -- the use of chemicals to control weeds followed by little to no tillage. The remaining stubble reduces erosion and improves soil moisture, though Hayden has had to investigate best practices in crop rotation and chemical applications to address an increased prevalence in root diseases.

In his growing area, he's noticed following a winter wheat crop with another winter wheat crop tends to exacerbate diseases.

Hayden has also designed and built his own drills for direct-seeding, enabling him to use liquid fertilizer banded in the soil beneath seeds, where roots can find it. He prefers liquid fertilizer because it has the nutrients wheat plants need in the same microclimate and the acidity of nitrogen and sulfur prevent calcium in soil from tying up phosphorus.

Hayden said he's presented his drill designs at direct-seeding conferences.

Genesee, Idaho, farmer Doug Stout, has also found that liquid fertilizer is preferable in direct-seeding, and growers who use the method commonly have to build their own specialized equipment.

"The majority of our systems are a hodgepodge put together. You kind of retrofit things," Stout said.

Hans Hayden

Age: 58

Family: Wife Julie and six adult children

Hometown: Arbon Valley, Idaho

Education: Master's and bachelor's degrees in agronomy from Brigham Young University

Occupation: Dryland wheat and alfalfa farmer

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