The WSU Wilke Farm and Direct-seed Cropping Systems with Aaron Esser

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Contact Information:

Contact Aaron Esser by email at aarons@wsu.edu or by phone at 509-659-3210.


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Episode Transcription:

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: Hello and welcome to the WSU Wheat Beat Podcast. I’m your host, Drew Lyon, and I want to thank you for joining me as we explore the world of small grains production and research at Washington State University. We have weekly discussions with researchers from WSU and the USDA-ARS to provide you with insights into the latest research on wheat and barley production.

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: My guest today is Aaron Esser. Aaron is with WSU Extension in Lincoln and Adams Counties. He has been with WSU for 20 years. About 10 years ago, he took over as chair for the WSU Wilke Farm Management Committee. The WSU Wilke Research and Extension farm is a 340-acre facility on the eastern edge Davenport, Washington, in the intermediate rainfall zone. It’s been in a direct-seed cropping system for 20 years in a variety of rotations. Hello, Aaron.

Aaron Esser: Hey, Drew, how are you?

Drew Lyon: Good, I saw that the landscape of the farm changed significantly last all. Would you like to tell us about the changes and what this means moving forward?

Aaron Esser: Yeah, with the financial help of a couple generous supporters, we were able to put up a building on the farm. So now we have a place to actually house our equipment and stuff. So what that’s going to do is it’s going to be tremendous moving forward. You know, I kind of related before, you know, like having your refrigerator in your garage. You know, every time you need something, you have to run out to the garage and get it. Now we have our refrigerator in our kitchen. We have our equipment there. We can maintain it and keep it in protection, and so having that facility right there is going to be tremendous from that standpoint, and then it’s also going to allow for more outreach opportunities from the farm. We can have more field days and educational events. Within the farm itself, I think it’s really going to enhance the research. One of the things the building has allowed us to do, now we can, you know, focus, changeup our focus a little bit more. On this last year, we purchased a tractor we’re hoping to put together a drill for this spring. So where we’ll be seeding the farm ourselves. Now when we look at rotations and cropping systems, we’ll have a little bit more control over it than when we were just relying on someone to come in and custom seed it for us. I think that’s going to be tremendous moving forward.

Drew Lyon: Timeliness in a lot of these crops can make a big difference. So having that equipment right there where you can be timely with planting and spraying should make a big — have a large effect on how successful some of the systems might be.

Aaron Esser: You know, when you’re looking at seeding spring wheat into broad-leaf crop or a spring wheat into a winter-wheat crop, if you’re seeding them in the same, virtually the same day, you’re really eliminating some of the advantages we can generate with those broad-leaf crops in rotation. So yeah, it’s going to be exciting.

Drew Lyon: So you said cropping systems and sustainability ranked high in your long-range planning session. What does this mean at the farm and for farmers throughout the region?

Aaron Esser: You know, part of the reason I think we’re seeing the responses when we had our advisory meeting is that farmers are just, in general, frustrated with relying on, you know, that global wheat market price, and they’re looking for alternatives to, you know, to have a little bit more control over what they planted what they do and how they’re going to generate revenue for their farm. So when you look at cropping systems moving forward, I think having that diversity helps. When you look at the diversity of crops we can look and herbicides and herbicide management. Once you get stuck in a rotation of summer fallow, winter wheat, or three-year rotation, you really find yourself getting into a pattern of using the same herbicides year after year, and by incorporating some different crop diversity into it, it gives you an opportunity to really help get you out of that continuous cycle, as well. Some of the other things we’re doing cropping systems and we continued is the farm itself has been broken into a four-year rotation and a three-year rotation and then continuous rotation. You know, a four-year rotation is summer fallow, winter wheat, broad-leaf crop, spring cereal. The three-year rotation is pretty traditional for the area where you have summer fallow, winter wheat, spring cereal, and the continuous crop is just, you know, where you eliminate the fallow altogether. So within these areas, we really have a strong history of looking at compaction, wireworm population, soil pH, soil sampling, plant tissue analysis. So we can go back and start looking at differences within these cropping systems.

Drew Lyon: As a weed scientist, crop rotation is a huge factor in how you control weeds. You kind of hinted at that earlier. In the continuous crop rotation, how do you make decisions as to what crops you put in there? Do weeds play a factor? Is it based on market prices? Water?

Aaron Esser: You just hit the top two reasons is how we choose a crop, and that system is primarily based off, you know, the marketability of certain crops and what type of weeds we have, and if we can control them with the crop we’re looking at, but those are probably our two leading factors that we look at. Money and weed control.

Drew Lyon: They’re important to me, and I’m sure there are important to your growers. You mentioned small plot research is a major emphasis. Would you talk a little bit about this aspect of the farm?

Aaron Esser: You know, before I was talking a lot about the overall, the larger plots, but the small-farm research is a critical factor for this facility. We annually certify about 15 acres a year. Just for instance, in 2017, we had, I counted up, I had 13 different projects by seven different researchers, and this fall, going in for 18 already. We have 10 projects by six researchers, and one of those is Howard Nelson from Highline Grain. He has some variety of plots there with chickpeas and winter peas and some other stuff. Arron Carter puts out his winter wheat advance lines on the farm. Chem Way and the breeding plots by Scott Hulbert. We have some crop rotation stuff. Some winter-canola variety plots, compost studies by Ian Burke. We have some calcium carbonate studies, and then you have some of your stuff, there, too. I always like to keep that weed — I call it my weed playpen.

Drew Lyon: And I really appreciate your willingness to give us a little space where you help maintain weeds up there on the north side. That’s very beneficial. So I know it’s a very good site for a lot of researchers here at Pullman to go work in the immediate rain fall zone.

Aaron Esser: Yeah, and as the chair, I mean, that was one thing that when I took over chair in the farming system itself that the firm was in, I didn’t think it really allowed for a lot of good small plot research. We had an overriding rye population that really eliminated a lot of the types of research we wanted on the farm, and so that was one of first things we looked at is how to clean up some of these situations and make sure that when a researcher comes up and wants to have a site for a plot, we can make sure that we have it. You know, we can have some canola residue, we can have spring wheat residue, winter wheat residue. We can have, you know, do you want to follow winter wheat? Do you want to be following spring wheat? You know, so it can fit and accommodate a vast majority of different research plots and ideas, and when I looked at what we need to do for that intermediate rainfall zone, that’s a very critical part of it.

Drew Lyon: Can you talk briefly about how people can find out more about the farm and what you’re doing there?

Aaron Esser: The first and foremost is, historically, I think I’m pretty easy to hold of, for the most part. All you’ve got to do is Google “Aaron”, and I’ll probably turn up. On our Small Grains website that we have, if you go to a rotation crop tab, well, if you go to the Rotational Crop tab, one of the things we do each and every year is we put out an annual Wilke Farm production and economic report. So I talked about those rotations earlier. We take all that information, all the practices that we did, seeding dates, rates, fertilizer treatments, fertilizer soil results, and we compile that into one outreach report, and you can find those on the Small Grains website under rotational crops. For the last three or four years, those are available there. We also have — I’m going to apologize here little bit, Drew. We’ve done a pretty defunct job of keeping this website updated, but we do have the Wilke Farm website. It’s wilkefarm.cahnrs.wsu.edu, and we have the some of the history on the farm and some of that earlier stuff, but we don’t have as much of the recent stuff. We’re working to get some of that updated. One of the other ways, we do have a field day coming up this year, the WSU Wilke Field Day is going to be on June 26, 2018. I invite everyone to comment and see what’s going on on the facility and look forward to interacting with growers, researchers, and industry for the morning.

Drew Lyon: Okay, well, the Wilke Farm is a great resource for farmers in the intermediate rainfall zone, and I know I enjoy working up there, as well as some of my colleagues. I know you’re doing some really interesting work. You’re really starting to really accumulate a long-term history of these different rotations. Very interesting information. Thanks for sharing that with us today, Aaron.

Aaron Esser: Thanks, Drew.

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: Thanks for listening to the WSU Wheat Beat podcast. If you have questions for us, that you’d like to hear addressed on future episodes, please email me at drew.lyon@wsu.edu. You can find us online at smallgrains.wsu.edu. You can also find us on social media on Facebook and Twitter @WSUSmallGrains. Subscribe to this show through iTunes or your favorite podcasting app. The WSU Wheat Beat podcast is a production of CAHNRS Communications in the College of Agricultural Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. I’m Drew Lyon; we’ll see you next week.

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