OSU research helps wheat farmers achieve a triple bottom line

Since the 1800s when farmers first put plow to soil in northeastern Oregon, up to 60 percent of the soil’s organic matter essential for retaining water has been lost. In a drought-prone region where a majority of fields are not irrigated, that’s a serious threat to environmental and economic sustainability.

For almost two decades, research plots at Oregon State University’s Columbia Basin Agricultural Research Center (CBARC) in Sherman County have shown that no-till farming – where farmers drill in the seed without disturbing the surrounding soil – increases soil organic matter, fertility, conserves moisture, and efficiently controls weeds. The increase in soil organic matter and increase in moisture storage can, in the long-run, make annual cropping possible in low precipitation zones where wheat-fallow is predominant. The technique also sequesters carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere and contribute to climate change.

Research led by Stephen Machado, OSU professor and Extension and Agricultural Experiment Station dryland cropping system agronomist, also shows that over the past decade-plus, employing no-till produced higher yields than conventional farming methods.

Since learning about the benefits of no-till farming methods, close to 100 percent of wheat farmers in Wasco County have adopted no-till practices.

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