LATAH SWCD supports farmers and ranchers in adopting conservation practices that maintain or improve soil health.
The Agricultural Lands Resource Conservation Goal is to maintain and improve long-term soil productivity on agricultural lands while providing voluntary opportunities for the long-term preservation of working agricultural lands in Latah County.
Dryland production of soft white wheat, spring wheat, barley, lentils, peas, oats, canola, and grass seed accounts for the majority of crops grown in Latah County. Tillage practice range from no-till to conservation tillage - where inversion tillage implements are used in rotation, and/or various minimum till implements are used. No-till producers typically follow a 3 year crop rotation including winter wheat - spring wheat - spring legumes, where winter wheat is the main cash crop.
Local Agricultural History
The Palouse region, including Latah County, has been reported to have had one of the highest soil erosion rates in the country. Breaking out the original deep-rooted cover of perennial grasses and forbs left the soil vulnerable to erosion by wind and water. Farming practices of the late 19th through the mid-twentieth century exacerbated these erosion problems. As topsoil eroded away, less fertile subsoil remained, and more fertilizer has been required to achieve the same crop yields. Soil loss by water erosion in the Palouse River basin from 1939 to 1972 was severe in the heavily farmed areas, where soil losses of 15-18 tons per acre per year were documented. Erosion control practices instituted since the late 1970s have reduced erosion from cropland in the Palouse River Basin by at least 10 percent. Reduced-tillage and no-tillage methods, used in combination with rotations of crop varieties and retention of more crop residues, have reduced erosion potential of Latah County’s agricultural lands significantly over the past 30 years.
Latah SWCD has a dedicated Soil Health Program to support regional growers in science based, practical solutions to on-farm soil health issues. Building local expertise and conservation partnerships in soil health will also strengthen regional and national efforts to improve soil health management at the farm scale.
The Board of Supervisors identified soil acidification, soil compaction, and declining soil organic matter as priority concerns to soil health in local conservation agricultural systems. Through several projects and long-term monitoring efforts, Latah SWCD soil scientists are working with area growers to address these challenges.
Pamphlet published by the Latah SWCD in the 1940's.
Soil Health Program
Farmer- Driven Approach
Latah SWCD facilitates the development of coordinated learning communities within the area to connect growers with local resources by engaging with other growers, researchers, conservation agencies, private companies and other interested stakeholders.
Evaluating Soil Health Characteristics
Latah SWCD provides technical service to local growers designed to evaluate soil health monitoring tools and practices through field scale demonstration and interpretation.
Supporting grower based research and evaluation
Grower innovation is supported by Latah SWCD through the implementation of on-farm field trials developed by individual growers who seek a better understanding of soil health.
Building Conservation Partnerships
Information gained through through grower-driven strategies are the foundation for an expanding effort coordinated by Latah SWCD to build conservation partnerships with area growers and interested stakeholders, both private and public.
Latah SWCD recognizes two areas of limiting factors to the conservation of agricultural lands:
Soil Productivity addresses the inherent ability of agricultural soils to produce sustainable crops, limited by soil heal deficiencies and precision management deficiencies.
Agricultural land preservation addresses the need to maintain economically viable agricultural lands in the long-term. Limiting factors include loss of productive agricultural lands, loss of rural amenities, and crop predation by animals.
Soil Health Projects
LATAH SWCD is involved in several aspects of soil health.