Foster Creek Conservation District
Foster Creek Conservation District

VSP and Direct Seed Producer Spotlight

We interviewed Aaron Viebrock a cropland producer from Waterville, about direct seeding as his contribution to voluntary stewardship. This practice protects critical areas by improving soil health, decreasing soil erosion, and providing food and cover for wildlife.

 

  • Why did you decide to start using a direct seed system?  “My dad dabbled in the direct seed world in the 80’s, using an HZ drill.  That drill wasn’t designed for direct seeding into the previous crop’s residue.  Once some programs like CSP, EQIP, and Foster Creek CD’s direct seed programs started providing some financial incentives, I decided to look into a direct seed system again on our farm.”

 

  • When did you start transitioning from your conventional tillage practice, and how?  “In 2012 I got into a direct seed program through NRCS called EQIP.  I put about a third of our farm into direct seed and conventionally tilled the rest.  That year after five inches of rain, there were no ditches in my no-till fields, while the conventionally tilled fields had many ditches and I had to go out with the plow and fill them.”  

 

Three generations of Viebrocks preparing to plant seed
  • What are some positive and negative outcomes you’ve experienced while direct seeding?  “The biggest advantage is I spend more time with my family.  In June when everybody is trying to fertilize, I spend about four days spraying [herbicide].”  Another positive Aaron found was the benefit to applying fertilizer close to the seed with the drill.  “The roots have those nutrients available immediately after they sprout.  I’ve also added nutrients that I’ve never added before like phosphorus, boron, zinc and a micro nutrient package.” These nutrients couldn’t be loaded to the traditional anhydrous ammonia shank machine used to fertilize for conventional tillage. 

 

Aaron’s biggest problem so far is moisture retention when battling weeds and clay. “In conventional tillage, when you see weeds in your fields, you tend to kill them pretty quickly.  On my no-till fields, it’s not as easy to see weeds because of the residue.  I’ve learned that I need to spray about once a month. The clay knobs on our ground have been a problem too.” However, Aaron sees that his neighbors’ conventional tilled clay knobs don’t appear to have moisture and are also bare when the crop emerges.  “Now that we are not destroying the biology in our soil with tillage, we can increase organic matter, and soil health and structure will improve.”  He is hopeful improved soil structure will eventually help those clay knobs retain moisture again. 

 

“When I started direct seeding, I was told it would take a few years for our soil to convert to a no-till system.  I didn’t believe it but they were right. I think I’m finally starting to see some results. Now that I’m focused on soil health, I realize that’s the most important aspect of direct seeding. Yes, it’s been a challenge and I’ve had my share of mistakes.  But I’m dedicated to making those mistakes into a learning opportunity.”

  • What advice would you give someone who was considering switching to a direct seed system?  “It’s a challenging area to make the system work, mostly because of our soil type and amount of precipitation.  I get why people want to stick with conventional tillage because it’s been working.”  However, Aaron notices that wind and rain no longer blow or wash away his soil and nutrients. 

 

“Without assistance from crop insurance, NRCS, Foster Creek Conservation District, and Spokane County Conservation District direct seed loan program, I may not have been able to do this.  Also, the support from the rest of the direct seed community has been humbling.”  He turns to the Pacific Northwest Direct Seed Association conferences, grower meetings, and local contacts. “But of course, their ground is different than mine, so I take the information and learn how to adapt it.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions.  I don’t think I could be where I am today without support from the direct seed community.”  

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