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Eight years of annual no-till cropping in Washington's winter wheat-summer fallow region

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The tillage-based winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L.)-summer fallow (WW-SF) cropping system has dominated dryland farming in the Pacific Northwest USA for 125 years. We conducted a large-scale multidisciplinary 8-year study of annual (i.e., no summer fallow) no-till cropping systems as an alternative to WW-SF. Soft white and hard white classes of winter and spring wheat, spring barley (Hordeum vulgare L.), yellow mustard (Brassica hirta Moench), and safflower (Carthamus tinctorius L.) were grown in various rotation combinations. Annual precipitation was less than the long-term average of 301 mm in 7 out of 8 years. Rhizoctonia bare patch disease caused by the fungus Rhizoctonia solani AG-8 appeared in year 3 and continued through year 8 in all no-till plots. All crops were susceptible to rhizoctonia, but bare patch area in wheat was reduced, and grain yield increased, when wheat was grown in rotation with barley every other year. Remnant downy brome (Bromus tectorum L.) weed seeds remained dormant for 6 years and longer to heavily infest recrop winter wheat. There were few quantifiable changes in soil quality due to crop rotation, but soil organic carbon (SOC) increased in the surface 0-5 cm depth with no-till during the 8 years to approach that found in undisturbed native soil. Annual no-till crop rotations experienced lower average profitability and greater income variability compared to WW-SF. Yellow mustard and safflower were not economically viable. Continuous annual cropping using no-till provides excellent protection against wind erosion and shows potential to increase soil quality, but the practice involves high economic risk compared to WW-SF. This paper provides the first comprehensive multidisciplinary report of long-term alternative annual no-till cropping systems research in the low-precipitation region of the Pacific Northwest.
Schillinger, W.F. , Kennedy, A.C. , Young, D.L.
Includes references
Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 2007 May, v. 120, issue 2-4
Journal Articles, USDA Authors, Peer-Reviewed
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