Farming Wheat on the Palouse Sustainably
John Aeschliman discovered the secret to sustainably farming wheat in the Palouse. It’s called direct seeding.
Aeschliman has been using a direct seeding method for 30 years. Direct seeding is a method of farming in which the seed is planted directly into the ground, thus only minimally disturbing the soil. Growers say direct seeding reduces plowing, which in turn preserves top soils, lowers fuel costs and protects the microorganisms and worms that contribute to soil health. In addition, crop residue is left standing to reduce soil erosion and improve moisture retention. Less erosion means less runoff of pesticides into local water systems.
“The whole secret is the residue,” said Aeschliman. Aeschliman piles the residue between the rows where the plant is seeded.
“The better your soil, the better quality of your food,” he said.
The idea for direct seeding came from frustration and thinking a better way must be possible said Aeschliman. He said direct seeding was a disaster when it started, but has now evolved into a successful farming method.
Fred Fleming is another no-till farmer. Along with farming, Fleming is the co-founder of Shepherd’s Grain, along with Karl Kupers. Shepherd’s Grain is an alliance of Northwest family farms that practice sustainable agriculture. The flour producing business has a partnership with Washington State University Dining Services and other business in the Pacific Northwest.
“Our vision is to reconnect producers and consumers and to show that we have a sustainable production system,” said Fleming.
All of the flour that WSU Dining Service uses–some 38,000 pounds per school year–comes from Shepherd’s Grain. The whole wheat baking flour is milled at the Old Centennial Mill, now owned and operated by Archer Daniels Midland, in Spokane.
The WSU-Shepherd’s Grain partnership began in 2001. Since then, direct-seed wheat production has grown from 2,000 to 500,000 bushels. Altogether, Columbia Plateau Producers has more than 70,000 acres under direct seed production. Other Shepherd’s Grain customers include the University of Idaho, Whitworth College, Gonzaga University, the Coeur d’Alene Resort, and Spokane’s Luna Restaurant and Davenport Hotel.
by Whitney Parsons, CAHNRS Marketing and News intern