U.S. Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Service, Lincoln, Nebraska


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of Soil and Water Conservation Jan/Feb 2009—vol. 64, no. 1.


Conservation tillage systems that reduce soil erosion and maintain or increase soil carbon offer long-term benefits for producers in the inland Pacific Northwestern United States but could result in reduced grain yields due to increased pressure from weeds, disease, and insect pests. Our objective was to compare runoff, soil erosion, and crop yields from a conventional tillage, wheat-fallow two-year rotation and a no-till four-year rotation. The experiment was undertaken within a small watershed to provide results that would be repre¬sentative of conservation effectiveness at the field scale. Two neighboring drainages, 5.8 and 10.7 ha (14 and 26 ac), in the 340 mm y-1 (13.4 in yr-1) precipitation zone of northeastern Oregon, were instrumented to record rainfall, runoff, and erosion over a four-year period (2001 through 2004). One drainage was cropped to a winter wheat–fallow rotation and received inversion tillage (tillage fallow). The second drainage was cropped in a four-year no-till rotation: winter wheat–chemical fallow–winter wheat–chickpea (no-till fallow). We recorded 13 runoff events from the inversion tillage system and 3 from the no-till system. Total runoff and erosion values from inversion tillage drainage were 5.1 mm (0.20 in) and 0.42 Mg ha-1 (0.19 tn ac-1) versus 0.7 mm (0.03 in) and 0.01 Mg ha-1 (-1) from no-till drainage. The no-till rotation was substantially more effective in conserving soil and water in this field-scale comparison. Soil erosion observed in this research is a fraction of that reported for similar tillage practices outside of the Pacific Northwestern. Mean wheat yields did not significantly differ between inversion tillage and no-till treatments despite intensify¬ing the rotation by replacing one year of fallow with a chickpea crop in the four-year rota¬tion. Because of high year-to-year variability in yield and limited sample size, more study is needed to compare winter wheat yields in no-till production systems with inversion tillage. The no-till cropping system was more effective in reducing runoff and soil erosion and provides producers with an ability to protect soil and water resources in the dryland Pacific Northwest.