Wilke team designs a no-till future

DAVENPORT, WASHINGTON--Just east of this wheat farming town sits a half section of gently rolling deep silt loam. Beulah Wilson Wilke (pronounced Will-key) donated this parcel to Washington State University for research purposes in 1987, and stipulated that the farm be operated at a profit.

Now 30 strips of crop, big enough to be worked with farm-size equipment, adjoin U.S. Highway 2. The Wilke Farm has become the hub of an innovative and systematic effort at changing the winter wheat/summer fallow regime that has predominated for the last century in this area of eastern Washington.

By the turn of the century, this region was rapidly becoming a tillage-based wheat monoculture dependent on export markets. In the higher rainfall areas of the Palouse, near the Idaho border, annual cropping was the norm. But in this intermediate rainfall zone (12 to 17 inches annually), summer fallowing every two or three years has been used to stockpile enough winter moisture in the soil to produce crops of wheat.

Before 1920, when tillage was still powered by Percherons and Shires, summer fallowing often consisted of burning the weeds and stubble, followed by repeated tillage through the summer. By killing weeds and providing an uncapped dust mulch to interrupt capillary action, farmers kept soil moisture from wicking to the surface and evaporating.

But fire and tillage left most of the ground bare much of the time. From the inception of the winter wheat/summer fallow tillage regime, dust storms that blew seed wheat clear out of the ground were familiar, as were gullies and silted streams. Some black fallow fields lost 200 tons of soil per acre in single storms.

Russian thistle began spreading in the late 1890s. Jim Hill mustard, hairy vetch, morning glory, tarweed, prickly lettuce, and wild oats were common by 1910. Efforts to eradicate them failed. Ground squirrels and "coulee crickets" sometimes decimated crops.

Most of the wheat has been exported. By 1879, 80 shiploads of wheat per year were moving from the Pacific Northwest to Liverpool, England. Soft, starchy white wheats, suited for pastry and noodles, became a Pacific Northwest specialty. Asia and Africa are now the main customers.

Assisting wheat producers with improved genetics, technology, and cultural practices was the Agricultural Experiment Station in Pullman (which evolved into Washington State University). The institution has tended to focus on maintaining and improving the productivity of the wheat monoculture.

But right from the beginning, there was dissent. Professor R. W. Thatcher of Washington State College in Pullman suggested in a 1912 bulletin "The Nitrogen and Humus Problem in Dry Farming" that farmers should leave the ground rough, avoid burning stubble, and take steps to protect the soil's humus. "Conserving moisture is not enough."

Most farmers continued to do what they were successful at--producing record amounts of wheat, cheaply and efficiently. Soil erosion tended to be seen as a geological process rather than a biological loss.

Government price supports for wheat, which began in the 1930s, have perpetuated the wheat monoculture to an artificial degree. Improvements in wheat genetics, fertilizers, and chemicals continued to boost production. Mechanization has concentrated farm production in fewer and fewer hands, while progress in transportation and storage has increased the economic disconnect between urban and rural economies. Some point out that if all the farmers in eastern Washington went broke, Spokane residents would not miss meals.

Citizens'environmental groups such as Save Our Summers in Spokane have become increasingly strident about air-quality problems. When grass seed growers burn fields, or when wheat farmers burn stubble, these are clear and visible sources of the fine particulate matter that is blamed for respiratory difficulties. Water-quality issues have come up, such as nitrate leaching. The Washington Department of Ecology and the Environmental Protection Agency began to look at serious regulations on agriculture.

The 1995 Farm Bill laid out a course for eliminating price supports for wheat in seven years. Low commodity prices in recent years have put enormous financial pressures on farmers. There is widespread acknowledgment that dryland agriculture in eastern Washington is at a crossroads.


Karl Kupers, who farms 5600 dryland acres near Harrington, is a passionate advocate for change. He explains, "you must have passion to make change work." Kupers took over his father's leased farming operation in 1972. By 1985, he began to feel that he was a highly subsidized wheat producer, and that subsidies could not last. "I set a goal to create a farm in 10 years that would not depend on those subsidies."

"I learned farming in a winter wheat/summer fallow scenario. In my view today, that is not sustainable. Environmentally, there are going to be regulations on agriculture that we are not today capable of dealing with. The majority of the people in the world are going to demand a cleaner environment. And they're going to look at us to be the producers of that clean environment."

Kupers jumped at the chance to start growing rapeseed in 1985. He was experimenting with conservation tillage. "I had made tremendous strides with stubble mulch, but it still wasn't right." His 10 landlords wanted to keep their land in production. "I said okay, I need to go out and find a better way to do things, because in the next 20 years, the environmental concerns of the nation and the world are not going to allow summer fallow/winter wheat to be the way to go."

In 1986, Kupers had a failure establishing a canola stand. He reseeded 300 acres with perennial grass that he harvests for seed. "Change doesn't always come in a planned and positive way. I had a failure that led me to one of the most positive and productive things I've ever done in farming, moving toward sustainable agriculture through the use of perennial grasses."

On this field he has watched the soil soften, accepting more water each year. Less water was leaving the farm in the form of runoff.

The Dakota Lakes Research Farm

In 1995, Monsanto sponsored Kupers, along with a dozen other progressive-minded farmers, to go to Pierre, South Dakota to Dr. Dwayne Beck's research farm. Says Kupers, "the Dakota Lakes Research Farm was developed because a group of farmers were so disgruntled with their university's research that they bought a piece of land and hired Dwayne Beck, and they said, take us to the future. They were so frustrated that the university wasn't doing it. And he did."

For Kupers, this was it, this was the kind of systems-level change he'd been looking for, this was nirvana. Beck had developed a profitable dryland cropping system that kept the soil covered, built soil, managed moisture, fertilizer, weeds, and diseases, diversified risk, and required less equipment than conventional tillage farming.

"The farmers have really been key here," observes Dwayne Beck. A nonprofit corporation run by farmers owns the land, and the farmers help prioritize research projects and make research decisions. All of the research is farm-scale. Dakota Lakes is not an enclave but a hub, with farmer/researchers trying things and monitoring the results in offsite locations. South Dakota State University is also involved.

Beck claims that the driving force is economics or greed. "The real reason we do no-till is because of profitability. All those other things are nice, and we like that. But you can't expect a farmer to do a system that isn't profitable just because it's better for the bugs in the soil."

He writes, "we make no pretense at having all the answers for producers interested in no-till. We do believe that our approach of designing no-till systems based on fundamental agronomic principles rather than as a modification of existing systems will be valuable. Our confidence in this philosophy is strengthened by the successes experienced in our production enterprise and by producers throughout the world with widely varied environments and operations" (http://dakotalakes.com).

In limited-rainfall prairie environments, thousands of experiments over the past 30 years have proven conclusively that no-till systems increase the amount of water infiltrating into the soil, and reduce evaporation and erosion. But in most cases these benefits had not been translated into increased yields or profitability. Many no-till pioneers failed economically.

The three big tools of farming, says Beck, are tillage, technology (chemicals), and rotations (cultural practices). In the 1970s, no-till pioneers thought they could raise a crop with only one tool--technology. Beck observes, "we were going to keep everything the same, we were just going to spray stuff. There wasn't enough technology available to make this work, and still isn't today. And if it were available, I'm not sure you could afford it."

He emphasizes that the key factors in a profitable and successful no-till system are rotation, rotation, rotation. Rotation enables a farmer to break disease and pest cycles, reduce risk, spread workloads, and reduce equipment needs.

"There is only one place to start planning a viable no-till program: picking the crop rotations to be used." Rotations need to have the right intensity and diversity.

In order to take advantage of the increased moisture available with no-till, crop rotations typically have to increase in intensity, "which means cropping more frequently and/or including more full-season crops in the rotation." Unless the soil moisture is used by plants, deeper leaching of nitrogen or the formation of saline seeps is a likely consequence.

Many researchers and producers recognized early on that cropping intensity could be increased when tillage was reduced. However, disease, weed, and pest pressures limited yields. One of Beck's basic agronomic principles is the need for diversity.

Karl Kupers explains, "you take a look at nature, you inventory nature, you find out what percentage of warm-season grasses, cool-season grasses, cool-season broadleaves, and warm-season broadleaves are in your area, what naturally survives in your environment."

"In our area, you're going to find 55 percent cool-season grasses (we were in a shortgrass prairie out here), 30 percent are cool-season broadleaves, 10 percent are warm-season broadleaves, and 5 percent are warm-season grasses. Cool-season grasses are all your grains. Cool-season broadleaves are your legumes, mustards, brassicas. Warm-season broadleaves are your sunflowers, chickpeas, garbanzos, buckwheat. Warm-season grasses are corn, sorghum, and millet."

"You look at that, and say those are the percentages I want in my system. You still recognize that you're going to have 50 to 60 percent of your ground in grain, because that's what grows naturally out here. You're going to have 25 to 30 percent of your ground in cool-season broadleaves, about 10 percent in warm-season broadleaves, and about 5 percent in warm-season grasses. We're hopeful that we can trick our environment to put more warm-season grasses into our rotation, because warm-season grasses are a C4 grass [with a greater photosynthetic capacity at higher temperatures] and they have an aggregate-cementing capacity when they break down. They will do more against soil erosion than any type of crop."

"The key point is that it's a complete change of philosophy. In winter wheat/summer fallow, crops and variety are the first thing I decide. But in this system it's the last thing I decide. Rotations for the disease control, for fertility management. Feeding the soil is first, because I'm going to make sure the soil enhances my productivity. Not feed the crop--totally different concept."

"You use rotations, not chemicals, which reduces your cost. You time your crops for equipment and manpower; therefore reduced costs. Those are the key components to making a sustainable agricultural system work."

Beck notes that "one of our farmers said it was a brain-transplant way of thinking. Weeds, according to our conventional way of thinking, are something we need to kill. But we see a weed problem as a symptom of something wrong in the way we're doing crop rotations, or in the way we're doing our seeding. Short-term, we may go out and spray it, but long-term our goal is to change the system so that it doesn't become a problem."

"The reason you have weeds is Mother Nature tries to add diversity. She likes diversity. We tell people, don't try to eliminate the diversity by killing the weed. Put a crop in to fill that need for diversity."

Changing the system

"Because I was prepared and ready for change, I found it," says Karl Kupers. "How do you bring something from Pierre, South Dakota back to Harrington, Washington?"

In October of 1995, he rented a no-till drill and direct seeded winter wheat. That winter he asked Diana Roberts, WSU Extension's intermediate rainfall agronomist, to be his technical and academic advisor on a USDA-SARE grant to help finance some 40-acre no-till trials (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, a U.S. Department of Agriculture program).

Says Roberts, "over the course of that summer he got some positive and negative input from his neighbors. The peer pressure, the neighborhood pressure is pretty strong for people who are trying to do something different. Their neighbors don't necessarily want them to succeed, because then they might have to change too."

Karl's landlords were relatives of the man who had homesteaded the ground 120 years earlier. He remembers, "now I have this board of directors that I have to go convince to forget how they made money, and how we farmed the land. And convince them to let me go out and experiment with something that nobody else was doing in my area."

"It can be done. It can be done if you're absolutely, positively committed, and you study it, and you understand it, live it, breathe it, and you have it in your heart to the point where you exude that confidence to them."

"No-till will enhance your capacity to produce," he told them. "You will have more water available to the plant. Your soils will improve. This takes time. Dr. Beck's program is in its ninth and tenth year and it is showing tremendous results."

"It takes diversity and rotation. Diversity for the economic side, and rotation, both of those working together, to take care of disease and those other problems. With rotation, no-till will work. Annual cropping is the other side of this. In my estimation, you have to be annual cropping in order to compete with a winter wheat/summer fallow regime economically."

Economics had to be the basis for change. With the 1995 Farm Bill, "the government came out and said we're going to give you seven years of payments to let you transition to a new way of farming. I proposed to my landlords that they take those seven years of payments, and put them away. Because I'm going to fail. I asked for seven years to do this, because if you want no-till to work, you've got to give it time. It takes at least five years before soils start to even show the advantages of no-till."

"What I presented to them was the opportunity to move away from a tillage-based system to a long-term, sustainable no-till system, that their advantage would be that the value of their land would increase and improve. My advantage is, I reduce my tillage costs, and I make a sustainable way for me to make a living."

Kupers and his landlords determined what the gross income from the farm was for the last five years, with subsidization. "We put it on a whole-farm scale, all 5600 acres, we were raising about half of it winter wheat. So we took those figures, and I said we're going to add a 10 percent cushion over that. So now we have a gross income figure, nonsubsidized, that we have to match up to. That was my commitment to them. We did the same with the net income--plus 10 percent." The landlords agreed to let him try.

In the four years since he first went to Pierre, Karl has extended his no-till operation to his entire farm. "I do not recommend this method of transition. I am a ready . . . fire . . . aim person."

"Rotation allows me to farm 5600 acres with one tractor (and it's a Challenger 35, which is the lowest-horsepower Challenger), one sprayer, one combine, one 30-foot drill, and one fertilizer system. I can't do that if I'm raising wheat. I start seeding last of March, first of April. I finish seeding in June. I start harvest in July, and finish harvest in November."

"I don't care how good of a summer-fallow farmer you are. Soil is going away from you. You cannot reclaim that soil. In the no-till system, I have a chance, in the next hundred years, to actually build soil. What an exciting, challenging opportunity!"

"There is no recipe in agriculture. There is system. That is where Holistic Management--a whole management system--finally starts to address how we should manage our lands, our resources, our people, and everything else. It has to be flexible, because Nature is flexible. It evolves, and presents you with new challenges and new rewards. But you have to give Nature a chance to work."

He has learned that "rotation reduces diseases. It reduces weeds--bad weeds. Rotation will take care of these two, and these two are huge costs."

Kupers uses a John Deere drill with disc openers. The ultra-low disturbance drill is a key factor in reducing weed pressure over time. "Tillage creates weeds."

"Wheat, subsidized, is a very difficult crop to compete with. Today, when you take that subsidy away, and make wheat stand on its own--these other crops, they start working. Recognize that soil is what you're shooting for, it's not the crop, it's not the 1997 to 1998 income."

Kupers reports to his landlords yearly. "We look at two years. We look at it by crop, and by field. The averages both ways have to meet or exceed these figures. So far we've exceeded them. So we're on the right track, at least up to this point."

He invites visitors to tread heavily on tilled winter wheat/summer fallow ground, and to feel their jowls jiggle with the impact. By contrast, Karl's no-till ground is soft and yielding. In midsummer after a dry spring, there is moisture at the soil surface under the residue.

"It is the system that can produce soil. We'll see the biggest benefit on shallow, marginal soils."

Test holes show macropores, and roots down five or six feet. "Now, even when ground is frozen, these macropores are still open. The rapidity of water movement into the soil is increased." Though improvement is slow, "it's going the right way."

A support group for growers

Karl had been telling other farmers about Beck's work in South Dakota. In the fall of 1996, he took six farmers and Extension agronomist Diana Roberts to Dakota Lakes.

"We were all really excited about it," says Diana. "These were all successful, leading farmers. They were excited by the potential to conserve soil to a greater degree than they were able to with current conservation practices, and also the potential that they saw for lowering inputs and increasing their profit margin."

But change was risky. No-till had crashed and burned twenty years ago. Diana suggested that they form a support group. "My county Extension chair said to me, 'you suggested a support group, and you used that word?'It has been very successful. We generally meet in each other's homes 9 or 10 times a year, and talk about how the season went, what worked, what didn't work."

They called themselves ACIRDS. As Karl explains, "the system's requirements are no-till to save soil and moisture; rotate for sanitation, weeds, and diseases; and diversify for economic stability. Hence the name annual cropping, intense rotation, direct seed (ACIRDS)." (Because many no-tillers failed in the 1980s, direct seeding has become the more popular term.)

Like the others in ACIRDS, Sprague farmer Chris Laney wanted to control erosion. "We were not happy with the amount of degradation that was occurring even with minimum till or trashy fallow. We're in an area where we get thaws on frozen soil, sometimes two or three times a winter, and the soil cannot absorb that. We get 70 percent of our moisture in the winter, and it's critical that we retain that. Instead, it was going down the creek, and it was taking unacceptable amounts of soil with it."

"Our soils were getting pulverized by tillage. Organic matter in most cases had been dropping, tilth was compacted. Beck seemed to have a scheme or a program to address a lot of that. We were impressed with what Beck was doing with rotations, with residue levels, and the health of the soil."

ACIRDS wanted to customize Beck's principles into the Pacific Northwest. "In South Dakota, they get their rainfall during the growing season," says Laney. "We have to conserve our moisture--we get very little additional help once we establish the crop. That changes your crop spectrum. We have no native warm-season broadleaf."

"It was like night and day with conventional tillage farming," says farmer Dale Dietrich. On a tour to Colfax, he saw the results of John Aeschliman's 20 years of no-till, and was impressed by 60 percent slopes with no visible signs of erosion, with "quite a duff of residue on top." At a no-till research station in Lethbridge, Alberta, they learned about rhizosphere ecology, and about the value of vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (VAM) from Jill Clapperton.

Wilke direct seeding project

The ACIRDS group felt the lack of practical research support for what they were trying to do. There was research at Pullman (high rainfall) and Lind (low rainfall). The intermediate rainfall region had its own specific problems. Most importantly, there was little whole-systems research--for which the growers "have an inherent desire," says Diana.

Karl saw the Wilke Farm, in a rainfall region of 12 to 16 inches, as a perfect opportunity to exemplify locally the no-till system that he had seen in South Dakota. He suggested to Diana Roberts that the ACIRDS group approach WSU's Wilke Farm committee, and ask that the Wilke Farm be used for direct seeding research. She remembers, "I went to my colleagues, the Ag Horizons group [a team of Extension people in eastern Washington], and they were enthusiastic about the idea. It really gave us a project to coalesce around. In the spring of 1997 we approached the Wilke Farm committee, and said we wanted to use the whole farm for direct seeding, and do systems research." Up to that time there had been various kinds of small-plot research on the Wilke Farm.

The Wilke Farm committee was interested, and asked the group to find ways to support the research. About that time, the Environmental Protection Agency came to Extension with their five-county Columbia Basin agricultural initiative. "EPA wanted to do some community-based work in agriculture, and we said we've got a project we need funding for," says Tom Platt, an Ag Horizons team member.

Because of the threat of regulation, there was mistrust and stereotyping between the farm community and EPA. Chris Feise, who was with Extension and now is acting director of WSU's Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, was a key player. "Wilke embodied the most holistic approach to the problems EPA had ever seen," says Feise. "It was a fantastic example of local initiative."

Lincoln County's share of the EPA funding went to Wilke for three years. Diana Roberts helped get additional funding from the Washington Department of Ecology's Task Force on agricultural burning. The Washington Wheat Commission also provided some funding, even though wheat was not the project's primary focus.

Tom Platt and Craig Madsen, who had participated in the WSU/Kellogg Holistic Management project, taught a year-long series on collaborative decision making. "In April 1997, we invited some agribusinesses, farmers, extension people," says Diana. "We met together for a year, and went through the Covey leadership, Allan Savory's holistic decision making, and consensus building after Bob Chadwick. Not everyone went to all of them, but the people who did attend, it really did help our team concept. The collaborative decision making was very good in helping us learn to listen to each other."

The team, which includes the ACIRDS group, has been using a holistic approach to developing a whole and a goal. The team intends to develop "a farming system that is ecologically, agronomically, economically, and socially acceptable; it affords a way of life that our sons and daughters may follow."

Says Jon Newkirk, a Wilke team member who works in Extension, "every step of the way, from the vision to the research process, it is a truly collaborative approach. We don't have an advisory committee here. All the stakeholders with this project sit at the table and help make the decisions."

The team approach made a huge difference in setting the research agenda. Says Jon Newkirk, "the people who went to Beck in Pierre saw a very different definition of systems research in which you look at the system as a whole, rather than breaking it into its individual parts and examining them in isolation."

"Growers are involved," says Diana, "and are full partners in the project. They have full say in what's going on. We wanted to have large plots so that we were using farm size equipment throughout. Growers really like that, it has a lot more relevance to them than 2 foot by 12 foot plots."

The team replicated the major features of Dakota Lakes: the research was farmer-driven, with farm-size plots, focusing on developing a viable system rather than specific practices such as terracing or buffer strips. Farmer-cooperators replicated the rotations on their own farms.

In April of 1997, Dale Dietrich, who had been the farmer-operator of the Wilke Farm, direct seeded a third of the Wilke Farm. In 1998, the team went to 10-acre strips. There was debate between the team and WSU on the validity of experiment design and plot size.

The team decided on trying a three-year rotation and a four-year rotation that included a warm-season grass (millet). Half of the six farmer-cooperators (ACIRDS members) are replicating the three-year rotation in 25-acre blocks, and the other half is replicating the four-year rotation. Data is collected at Wilke and also from the cooperators, who farm within 30 miles of Wilke.

Because the Wilke effort is directed at developing a successful farming system, rather than evaluating specific practices in isolation from one another, easy answers are elusive after only two years. Low prices even for alternative crops, the learning curve, and the transition factor (see page 9) make specific conclusions difficult.

Among them: residue management is critical to successful direct seeding. Be sure that chaff spreaders on combines are working well. Residue, particularly light-colored straw, slows the warmup of soil in the spring, and may increase the risk of frost damage.

The soil, says operator Dale Dietrich, "might have a little better tilth to it than two years ago. We haven't been into it long enough."

Economic conclusions are still distant. Says Diana Roberts, "we are trying to draw a picture of the entire system. If the entire system makes money, then an individual crop can be justified." In comparison to some of the economic successes in South Dakota with direct seeding, "we haven't seen those radical economic advantages in the Pacific Northwest," she says. "We're very adapted to cool-season cereals." The infrastructure is also still geared toward wheat. Many years after canola was introduced, there is still no oilseed processing plant in the region.

Dale Dietrich agrees. "The transition time is the hardest. We've got to find markets for some of the crops. The millet market is small. For millet to work, we're going to have to double or triple our yields."

Warm-season grasses such as corn or millet are a stretch for the area's shorter growing season. Proso millet, which is sold for bird seed at 7 cents a pound, has not yielded well at Wilke--but these crops could also be harvested by livestock. Team member Tom Platt, an extension livestock specialist, is interested in using livestock to help diversify rotations and add flexibility.

South Dakota no-tillers have begun to add livestock back to their systems. Says Beck, "livestock make the no-till thing easier. There are crops and rotational sequences where we can utilize the forage. Livestock, including buffalo, have grazed the prairies forever without permanently damaging the environment. However, the soil structural changes resulting from tillage make soils prone to damage by livestock. Once we get the soil structure back to what it was under prairie conditions, grazing will be an integral part of what we need to do."

The Washington Legislature's Safe Food Initiative--the state's major agricultural research funding proposal--recently funded a full-time research position for the Wilke direct seeding systems project. But the Wilke team had to fight to keep the position on location, with Extension, rather than in Pullman with the academic departments. They wanted to safeguard the systems aspect of the research. Tenure and promotional politics would have interfered, and the land-grant system does not yet reward teamwork.

"With systems research," says Diana, "you're only getting to a data point after five or six years. To me it's a fascinating study, how biological systems are created, and our challenge is to understand that and see how we can work together to benefit the whole system."

The position, which has not been filled as of this writing, calls for a "Dryland Farming Systems Specialist . . . who will join a public/private partnership dedicated to the implementation of direct seeding systems, with an emphasis on no-till, that incorporate diverse crop rotations and eliminate summer fallow in a winter rain-fed cropping area with limited precipitation (12-17 inches annually)." In addition to being an important member of the Wilke team, the researcher is required to use a systems approach, have a background in systems methodology, and be capable of "visionary and creative thinking."

What they learned

Jon Newkirk: I'm really excited. Teams and collaboration require a great deal of work to be successful. My conclusion is that with that investment of time and effort, the benefits far outweigh the costs.

The team meetings are an intellectually enriching environment. It's been a real grounding process as well--the unbelievably valuable interchange between the different cooperators, support and sharing of information. These benefits are key.

One of the problems with the separated, segregated type of research is that there are some assumptions there about who the expert is, and where the expertise resides. One of the key things about Wilke is the expertise that comes with individuals who have worked their ground for a number of years. When you get that going in, rather than just reacting to what's coming out, it's just exceptional what that does to the research process.

This project is a great example of how you don't need hierarchy to make things happen. It's also quicker.

Tom Platt: In creating the vision, we've generated a lot of resources. Now we need to know how to make this no-till system work and be profitable. We're not there yet.

When you suggest change, oftentimes you alienate a lot of people.

Keeping a people process going is a lot of work. You have to keep going, and try to approach it from different angles, because there's a lot of people who don't like process, period, sitting at meetings. But they're perfectly willing to consider ideas and do things on the farm.

Diana Roberts: I have tremendous respect for the growers. I don't feel like I'm the expert. They're all very intelligent, very with it, thinking people.

Dale Dietrich: It's all a learning process, that's one thing that's really exciting about it. It's not just the old type of tillage farming with cereals. I think it's on the front edge of farming now. This could change eastern Washington agriculture. I'm pretty excited about it. We've got to make this work economically.

Karl Kupers: I have tried to be the best steward of my land, but I also had a responsibility over here of being an economic steward of my family and the landlords that I have. And they were conflicting. What I'm trying to do--and I think we can--is to bring those two together. And sustainable agriculture is the answer. How you define sustainable agriculture depends on your section, township, and range.

It's not rocket science. You get out, walk it, study it.

If people try to make this change without passion, they will likely fail. You must have passion to make change work.