Foster Creek Conservation District
Foster Creek Conservation District

Producer Spotlight – Direct Seed, Cover Crops and “Cow-Fallow” Rotation

Our Producer Spotlight series will highlight producers using innovative methods for their operation. We hope this will inspire and instill confidence in viable farming and ranching techniques. Want to volunteer yourself or nominate someone for a Producer Spotlight article? Contact Olivia Schilling at 509-860-2453 or oschilling@fostercreekcd.org.

 

It happened to be one of those gorgeous sunny days of which we have had so few this spring in Douglas County. It had finally warmed enough to melt all but the most unyielding snow patches. Dan, Amanda and I stood on a burgeoning field of winter wheat, overlooking the Columbia River as it curves around the northern edge of the county. Dan Cavadini was giving us a tour of the Cavadini Partnership land, which is owned and operated by Dan and his dad, Norman. We were using the tour not only to conduct a Producer Spotlight interview and bask in the early spring sunshine, but to continue a Farmed Smart audit. Farmed Smart is a sustainable farm certification program developed by the Pacific Northwest Direct Seed Association and a conservation farming technical stakeholder committee. The Cavadini Partnership is participating in this and several other programs geared toward soil and water health.

Motivated to reduce soil loss from wind and water erosion, the Cavadinis converted to Direct Seed three years ago. Actually, they had first tried Direct Seed over a decade ago, but it didn’t work out. Dan said it’s working for them now likely because the whole Direct Seed practice has changed. There is more support, more products and more specialized equipment. In part because of its popularity, it’s easier to have a successful practice than it was back then. For the Cavadini Partnership, the initial investment in equipment was worth the ongoing benefits of less erosion, better soil health and less hours on the equipment (and therefore less gas).

The Direct Seed equipment delivers seed and fertilizer with minimal disturbance to the soil.

Last year, the Cavadinis added rotational grazing to their operation to reduce the weeds on fallow wheat fields – what Dan has aptly named “cow-fallow” rotation. This practice allowed them to cut the number of herbicide passes on the field in half. Last year they grew winter forage triticale on 50 acres of land to feed their 200 cattle. They harvested the triticale for winter feed, then grazed the regrowth twice more. They are also experimenting with different cover crops to improve soil health and decrease the amount of fertilizer they use.

2016 Photo provided by D.Cavadini

The morning air was warm by the time we pulled up in the truck to look at several pools of water in one of the Direct Seed fields. Dan told us that despite the wet spring, there was no obvious evidence of runoff, which tells him that these pools indicate a higher water table.  Because Direct Seed leaves intact roots and stalks from the previous crop, water infiltration and retention increases, meaning more water remains in the soil to grow the next round of crops. Dan can see the Direct Seed practice doing its job to reduce water erosion and increase the amount of water kept on-site in the soil. These are the kinds of positive signs a farmer hopes to see when converting to Direct Seed.

2016 Photo provided by D.Cavadini

After a few photos, we wrapped up our visit and headed back to the FCCD office. As for the future of the Cavadini Partnership, Dan plans to continue experimenting with “cow-fallow” rotation, cover crops, “redneck-weed-seekers” and other innovative farming methods in conjunction with Direct Seed.

“Redneck-weed-seeker”

To read more about Direct Seed, the benefits and the challenges, check out the Pacific Northwest Direct Seed Association website.

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Foster Creek Conservation District 203 S Rainier Waterville, WA 98858 509-888-6372 © Foster Creek CD