Why Direct Seed
The agronomic, economic and environmental benefits of direct seeding help to improve the sustainability of farming in the region. Sustainable agriculture supports rural economies, the environment and the overall Quality of Life in the Pacific Northwest.
Definition of Direct Seeding
Direct seeding refers to farming systems that fertilize and plant directly into undisturbed soil in one field operation, or two separate operations of fertilizing and planting. Only narrow strips of soil are disturbed by the equipment openers used to place fertilizer and seed in the soil without full width tillage. Much of the residue from the previous crop is retained on the soil surface. The reduced soil disturbance and retention of surface crop residues with direct seed systems provide improved environmental protection while maintaining or increasing soil productivity, and reducing production costs for farmers.
Improving Water Quality through reducing soil erosion
Reduced soil disturbance and increased retention of crop residues on the soil surface improve soil porosity, water infiltration and holding capacity, and can reduce erosion from water and wind by 90% or more. This results in less sedimentation ditches, streams, rivers and lakes. Reduced sedimentation improves fish habitat and minimizes the need for dredging. Less soil erosion also reduces offsite movement of agricultural chemicals tied to the soil particles.
Improving Soil quality and using less fertilizer
In addition to controlling cropland soil erosion, direct seed cropping systems also improve soil quality through minimized soil disturbance and increased retention of crop residues. Increased organic matter and soil porosity improve soil macro and micro fauna diversity, activity and earthworm populations can increase dramatically in some areas, further enhancing soil fertility and porosity. The maze of tunnels, old root channels and pathways greatly increase the soil’s water holding capacity. Many earthworms will produce 79 tons of castings/acre/year. Nutrients in earthworm castings include nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and calcium. Often, long term direct seed growers report using 30% LESS nitrogen fertilizer to grow the same amount of crop as the conventional grower. Similarly, dry land no-till growers frequently report that as much as 25% MORE water is stored in the soil matrix were it is available to grow better crops. Irrigated no-till growers need to apply LESS water and have experienced greatly increased “water transmissibility”.
Improving Air Quality by reducing dust storms and greenhouse emission and sequestering carbon
Direct seeding leaves crop residue on the surface and improves air quality by: reducing wind erosion and consequently particulate matter; minimizing fuel consumption and emissions; and reducing the need to burn fields in order to seed into last year’s crop residue. Direct seeding also reduces the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. High-disturbance tillage accelerates the biological decomposition of soil organic matter and crop residue, resulting in the release of carbon dioxide as a byproduct to the atmosphere and a decline in soil organic matter content over time. Direct seeding can reverse this process of carton loss and sequester carbon in the soil & reducing the buildup of greenhouse gases and increasing soil organic matter.
Conserving energy and reducing greenhouse gases
Direct seeding in one-two passes rather than five-six passes by conventional farmers reduces fossil fuel consumption and emissions from farm equipment saving an average 3.5 gallons of diesel an acre or 8,750 gallons on a 2,500-acre farm each year and keeping between 0.5 and 0.66 tons per acre of CO2 per year can be kept out of the atmosphere. This is the equivalent of not burning about a 20-gallon tank of gasoline per acre per year. The cost of repairing, purchasing and hence manufacturing new equipment declines with less use. In irrigated areas, improved water conservation reduces irrigation needs, cutting power use.
Wildlife species diversity and numbers have been shown to increase in areas where direct seeding is practiced. Crop residue in the form of cover and food, less disturbance from equipment, crop diversity, cleaner water and air provide favorable habitat for wildlife, such as game and nongame birds, big game animals, such as deer, small mammals, and salmonid fish species. Less soil disturbance and reduction of insecticides also encourages the development of a greater diversity of beneficial insects including a higher
proportion of predators and fewer herbivores.
Salmon Recovery in the Pacific Northwest
The PNDSA recognizes the importance of several salmon species in the tri-state region, and believes agriculture can play a key role in the process of recovery. Conservation farming practices including direct seeding can help bring endangered salmon species back to our rivers. The importance of water quality in promoting better spawning conditions is critical to that recovery. Direct seeding contributes directly to salmon recovery through reduction of erosion and improvement of spawning habitat. We support formation of collaborative partner arrangements with entities interested in environmental improvement that will directly enhance salmon recovery through improved production practices.
Direct Seed Challenges
Environmentally, direct seeding is the best choice for farming in most regions. Transitioning from conventional tillage to a direct seed cropping system, however, is a challenge to farmers. Adopting a direct seed farming system alters the way a grower thinks and farms; it demands patience, flexibility and openness to change. The transition breaks with tradition by replacing practices that have been passed down for generations with an ever-changing environment. The initial cost of investing in new equipment for an uncertain outcome is often prohibitive. The mission of PNDSA is to help producers overcome these challenges, provide information exchange, research, direct seed support programs to increase adoption of direct seed cropping systems in the Pacific Northwest. Your membership and partnership support will help advance the mission and goal’s of PNDSA and ultimately improve water quality, air quality, and soil quality in the Pacific Northwest.