Direct seed is a soil improvement practice supported by our ongoing Direct Seed Program that is currently funded by three WA Department of Ecology grants. The program provides cost-share to producers transitioning from conventional tillage to direct seed systems. You might think the life of a direct seeded field ends with the harvest and it’s time for a fallow recharge. You have residues that are holding soils out of the air and streams, stimulating soil organisms to release nutrients, and increasing water absorption and retention. What if you are ready to take the next step? Well, a step further is planting cover crops and incorporating livestock on fields to add plant diversity and fertilizer.
Leslie Michel, from the Okanogan Conservation District recently studied the use of cover crops and cattle for our region in direct seeded fields to give guidance for North Central Washington’s growing conditions. Cover crops can be planted in fall, spring and summer. Leslie recommends sowing a 5-seed mix that can help accomplish the changes you want on your land, such as adding nitrogen, or breaking up a compaction layer. Species that could become weedy, like rye, are not recommended. In Leslie’s study, spring and summer cover crops grew better and had less weed problems than fall plantings. An example mix for spring included spring pea, triticale, purple top turnip, oats, and lentils. Then, grazing was added to 4 of the 20 trial plots and cattle either maintained or gained weight. She found that crop yield was similar between grazed and ungrazed plots.
Direct seed paired with cover crops and cows may benefit your fields by competing with and eating weeds, retaining mositure through improved soil structure, stimulating soil microbes with live roots and fertilizer, and preventing wind and water soil erosion. Learn more about Leslie’s study by watching her webinar. Learn more about our direct seed cost-share from Amanda Ward 509-888-6373 or click here.