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Riley Dormaier (2 1/2) waits for his turn on the combine during Dormaier Family Farms 2020 harvest
near Hartline.

Photo by Robin Dormaier

Wilbur-Ellis

PROFILES

Promoting direct seeding in the Pacific Northwest

Ty Meyer, production ag manager, Spokane Conservation District

April 2021
By Kevin Gaffney


Born and raised in the wheat country near Colton, Wash., in the heart of the Palouse, Ty Meyer grew up on a wheat and cattle farm operated by his father and uncle.

After graduating from Colton High School, Meyer earned a bachelor’s degree in agribusiness from Washington State University in 1993.

“My first employment was with Northwest Farm Credit Services as a farm appraiser,” said Meyer. “I worked out of the Yakima office for two years.”

Meyer returned home to accept the position of assistant manager of Johnson Union Warehouse, which is now part of the Pacific Northwest Farmers Cooperative. By that time, Meyer and his longtime hometown sweetheart, Kay, were married, and they moved to the west side of Washington when Meyer landed a job with AT&T Wireless during the tech boom of the late 1990s. Meyer’s management duties included taking IT professionals around the country to train field office staff.

Meyer continued to work for AT&T after the family moved back to Spokane until the company was acquired by Cingular Wireless and required that all employees had to work from the Seattle offices. That was 2003, the year Meyer decided to join the team at the Spokane Conservation District (SCD).

“It was a good opportunity for me,” said Meyer. “It has been a pretty seamless fit, working with direct seed farmers, given my farm background.”

Meyer administers the SCD direct seed loan program, which provides funds to assist farmers in the transition to direct seeding. A quality direct seed drill unit can easily cost $250,000 or more. This is one reason why many farmers watch their direct seeding neighbors for several years before making the financial commitment.

Meyer works with farmers all over Eastern Washington and has an agreement in place to work with direct seeders in North Idaho.

“The program is targeted for direct seed farmers to offer funds that may not be available from commercial lenders or other sources. It is a dedicated pool of funds that has grown over the years. We are working with farmers in just about every county east of the Columbia River.”

The SCD has multiple funding sources, including from local land use fees. They leverage those funds to obtain grant funds and other revenues for promoting and establishing conservation practices.

“The soil is a precious resource, and it is amazing what conservation practices can accomplish on the farms,” noted Meyer. “Farmers in the Inland Northwest have already made incredible progress in reducing tillage, which has resulted in better conservation of the soil resource.

“Many farmers are baling their straw, which enables reduced tillage. Precision agriculture has helped all the farmers, especially the direct seeders. The payback for the upfront costs for adopting precision ag technology is usually one or two years. It’s really become more of a question of how can you afford not to implement these tools.”

Meyer explained that the growth in the size of most farm operations, with the accompanying increase in the size of the machinery, has made the transition to reduced tillage and direct seeding more workable.

“Most farmers already have high-powered tractors with 450 to 600 horsepower. They already use semitrucks for hauling grain from their fields. These trucks are also capable of pulling large bulk liquid product tanks. With this equipment already in place, the transition to direct seeding is not as onerous or expensive as it was just a decade or so ago.”

One of the complaints about direct seeding over the years has been that it worked better in higher rainfall regions. Meyer said he has direct seed farmers successfully operating in low rainfall areas of Douglas and Adams counties.

“Direct seeding is always evolving,” said Meyer. “We continue to strive to grow the best food crops we can while having as minimal an impact as possible on the precious soil resource. It seems to me, it is more important to find the right unique system for each individual farm than strictly looking at how much annual moisture is received. The rainfall matters, of course, but I really believe direct seeding can be successful on farms with as little as six to eight inches of annual moisture.

“Other goals we are striving for on direct seed farms include establishing higher organic matter levels. Cover crops can also be a critical factor in success. This might be legumes to put nitrogen back into the soil or adding other crops to enhance overall soil health. Cover crop practices are still in their infancy in our region. We are committed to helping our growers find more holistic approaches to building soil health.”

While the SCD is not directly involved in ag politics, they want to help the farmers in any way they can.

“As everyone knows, there is a strong push in the legislature concerning carbon reduction, taxation of carbon emissions, etc. Our focus is mostly on helping the farmers implement practices to reduce, if not reverse, climate change.

“Regardless of whether the farmers believe in climate change or not, it is a critical issue to agriculture at this time. So ag needs to aggressively and accurately tell its story. This isn’t an easy task, explaining modern agricultural practices to legislators and to an urban population several generations removed from the farm.

“While the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG) and the Farm Bureau are working with politicians in Washington, D.C., and Olympia, we are focused on working directly with farmers on potential solutions to these issues.

“Ag needs to educate legislators and other citizens about how much progress agriculture has already made over the past decades in reducing erosion, improving soil health and carbon sequestration. Farmers need to receive recognition and credit for everything they have already accomplished, and they need to be provided with funding to help continue this important conservation work.”

The SCD does much more than just promote direct seeding. They are actively involved in Forestry, Livestock & Land Management, FireWise Assessment, Watershed Planning, Water Resources, Soil Health and other educational programs.

The SCD just completed a $7.5 million regional conservation project with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Spokane County. They also have a very popular annual tree and shrub sale each spring.

Meyer has served on the Pacific Northwest Direct Seed Association board for six years. He also serves on the NRCS State Technical Advisory Committee.

Meyer and his wife, Kay, live in Colton with their two children. Their son, Jackson, is attending WSU, and their daughter, Maggie, attends Colton High School.

The SCD will soon be moving to their new, 50-acre conservation campus and new building in the Spokane Valley at 4422 E. Eighth Avenue. For more information, you can find SCD online at spokanecd.org.