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Wheat & Small Grains Timely Topics – Soil Management

Evaluate Soil Test Results for Applications of Nutrients

The application of some micronutrients has been shown to increase winter and spring wheat production yields. A full analysis of soil samples will provide information as to which essential nutrients are deficient and providing limited availability to the young plants as they develop. Recent research results have shown the potential to increase winter wheat yields… » More ...

National Survey Shows Cover Crops Improve Wheat Yields

A 2017 USDA SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) national survey of farmers showed that cover crops boosted subsequent wheat yields by 1.9 bushels/acre (2.8%). Farmers also reported using cover crops to aid in weed management, especially where herbicide resistance was a problem. While cover cropping has been a trendy discussion topic in agriculture in… » More ...

WSU Offers First Two-Day Workshop on “Unmanned Aerial Systems in Agriculture”

Drone in flight via two men with remote control.
In the past few years, unmanned aerial systems (UAS) or drones have fascinated growers, crop service providers, and researchers alike with versatile imaging and non-imaging application capabilities. The Agribusiness industry is trying to keep up with rapid developments in this sector. As stakeholders are exploring the suitability of the drones in agricultural production management, the… » More ...

“The Skin of the Earth” Podcast

While today’s podcast doesn’t have speakers that are WSU, the research farm is! In this episode of Wheat All About It! Director of communications at the Washington Grain Commission, Scott Yates, attends the Washington State University’s Wilke Farm Research and Extension Field Day, which was held June 28. Yates interviews Dave Huggins from Pullman about… » More ...

A New Publication: Advances in Dryland Farming in the Inland Pacific Northwest

A rainy sunset over the Palouse.
The newly published book, Advances in Dryland Farming in the Inland Pacific Northwest, compiles advanced knowledge of dryland farming gained during the six-year Regional Approaches to Climate Change (REACCH) project. This book is an excellent guide to sustainable agriculture practices. The aim of this book is to support farmers during their decision-making process and to enhance… » More ...

Residue Yield Calculator is Now Online

Crop residue is a valuable by-product in crop production. Leaving adequate amounts of residue on agriculture fields can effectively control soil erosion and improve soil health. Crop residue can also be used as a feedstock for biofuel, paper, or mushroom production and as feed and bedding for livestock. Estimating how much crop residue your crop… » More ...

Seeding Rate Converter is Now Online

Seeding rate is among the many factors that affect grain yield that can be controlled. The ability to control seeding rate allows farmers flexibility in their management practices. For example, when fall seeding is delayed the tillering period is shortened. To compensate for this reduction in fall tillers, farmers can increase seeding rates. To some… » More ...

Variable Rate Nitrogen Application – A Grower’s Perspective

The unique, hilly topography of the inland Pacific Northwest causes great within-field variability in soil and water conditions. As a result, crop yield potential and crop response to nitrogen (N) applications will vary according to the hillslope position, steepness, and aspect of any planted location. Thus, variable rate N (VRN) application makes sense for growers in this region.

In a recently published case study, Variable Rate Nitrogen Application: Eric Odberg, a grower from Genesee, Idaho, shares his 10 years of experience using VRN application in a direct seeding (no-till) system. Although transitioning to VRN application is a big decision with many challenges along the way, Eric’s 10 years of experience has brought him numerous benefits. These benefits include reduced fertilizer input, reduced lodging, reduced risk of N losses to the environment, and increased financial gain. Furthermore, because Eric complements VRN application with direct seeding and diversified crop rotations, his farm’s soil quality has also improved.

For questions or comments, contact Georgine Yorgey ( or Sylvia Kantor by email at at the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Nature Resources, Washington State University, or Kathleen Painter by email at at the Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology, University of Idaho.

A Win-Win: Building Soil Health While Gaining Yield & Profit

A 375-horsepower crawler tractor pulls a 1,000-gallon tank cart and a 32-foot-wide undercutter implement during primary spring tillage plus nitrogen and sulfur fertilizer injection in May. The undercutter’s narrow­-pitched and overlapping wide V-blades slice beneath the soil at a depth of five inches to completely sever capillary channels and halt the upward movement of liquid water to retain seed-zone water in summer fallow for late-summer planting of winter wheat. Most of the winter wheat residue from the previous crop is retained on the surface to control wind erosion.

Soil health and soil quality are two synonymous terms that are defined interchangeably by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) as follows: “Soil health, also referred to as soil quality, is the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans”. As a complicated bioecological system, soil is a living system with an abundance of diverse bacteria, fungi, and other microbes that have significant effects on soil physical and biological properties. Healthy soils provide a healthy physical, chemical, and biological environment for optimal crop growth.

Inherent soil properties that contribute to soil health, such as soil texture, are determined by the natural parent material and the environmental conditions during soil formation, in the absence of human impacts. Soil health is dynamic, rather than static, and can be degraded or improved with time as a result of soil use and management by humans. Soil degradation causes soil organic matter, fertility, structure, and biodiversity to decline and soil acidification to increase. As a result, crop productivity can decrease, crop diseases and weed problems can increase, and environmental quality can suffer.

Building soil health is becoming increasingly important worldwide. Soil imbalances in essential crop nutrients can be addressed by applying fertilizer and organic amendments. And soil chemical, physical, and biological properties can be significantly improved by adopting management practices such as no-tillage or reduced tillage.

A recently published article, Best Management Practices for Summer Fallow in the World’s Driest Rainfed Wheat Region, compares the effects of three fallow management practices on soil water dynamics, wheat stand establishment, grain yield, and economic returns. This research was conducted on two farms in the driest rainfed wheat production region in Washington (WA). At the drier site, results from the 5-year study indicated that late-planted winter wheat on no-tillage fallow was as profitable as on tilled fallow. Additionally, the study found that, at the slightly wetter site, undercutter tillage resulted in equal or greater grain yield compared with both traditional tillage and no-tillage.

Another recently published article, Wheat Farmers Adopt the Undercutter Fallow Method to Reduce Wind Erosion and Sustain Profits, surveyed 47 farmers who had been practicing undercutter tillage for several years. Farms were located in the low-rainfall (< 12 inches annually) zone of east-central WA and north-central Oregon (OR). Interviewers asked farmers to compare the agronomic and economic performance between undercutter tillage and conventional tillage. Results of this survey concluded that, on average, undercutter and conventional tillage systems have equal profitability. However, the undercutter system offers a costless air quality gain and a soil health benefit in terms of reducing wind erosion.

For questions or comments, contact Dr. Douglas L. Young (, Professor, in the School of Economic Sciences, or Dr. Bill Schillinger (, Professor, in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences at the Washington State University.


Washington State University