In what some consider to be the first intensive survey of how well soil conservation farming practices are adopted in the Palouse region and other parts of the Pacific Northwest, progress in switching to direct seeding in Latah County, Idaho, and Whitman County, Wash., since 1980 has been "striking" in its increase, says Doug Young.
"We saw a seven-fold increase in 30 years from 5% to 37%," in the two counties, reports the Washington State University ag economist.
He studied the change in the three decades to measure the impact of the federal Solutions to Environmental and Economics Problems (STEEP) in a new report, "Soil Conservation Practices and Attitudes of Several Hundred Surveyed PNW Farmers, 1980-2010." While the survey period ended three years ago, the compilation of the report was only recently completed, and introduced during the Pacific Northwest Direct Seed Association Conference in last week.
He also found a significant increase in minimum-till, stubble over winter, sediment basins, gully plugs, terraces and chemical fallow in the two counties.
The $185,000 2010-2012 mailed and in-person survey to measure the socioeconomic impacts a $30 million STEEP conservation efforts in the PNW targeted specific Idaho, Washington and Oregon counties as a barometer of how the reduced tillage programs were accepted.
Additionally, the three-year survey compared results with earlier assessments. "We pretty much agreed with their results," says Young, who notes that the survey shows a higher percentage of what were considered to be low-adoption counties in earlier years (Latah and Whitman counties were the lowest direct seed counties in Idaho and Washington, as was Umatilla County in Oregon) now using DS since 2004.
The survey found that eastern Palouse farmers have shifted from traditional conservation practices like throwing plow furrow uphill, seeding on contour, fall chiseling, and subsoil drainage to modern practices, especially direct seeding, says Young.
For more, see the April edition of Western Farmer-Stockman