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Gift Will Support Research at WSU Wilke Farm

PULLMAN, Wash. Proceeds from a performance-based trust established by a Harrington farm couple could provide up to $13,500 annually over the next 15 years for no-till research at Washington State University’s Wilke Research and Extension Farm near Davenport.

The gift from Karl and Lexie Kupers was announced Wednesday (July 7) at Wilke Farm’s annual field day.

“It’s something we’re very proud and pleased to be able to do,” said Karl Kupers. “Any knowledge that the Wilke Farm can get, we will gain from because we are doing no-till on our farm totally, 100 percent.

The funds will enable faculty working on the Wilke Direct Seeding Project to buy capital equipment that is not usually permitted with grant funds, according to Diana Roberts, WSU Spokane and Lincoln County Cooperative Extension. Roberts has coordinated different aspects of the project since its inception two years ago.

The Wilke Project is a cooperative venture of farmers and WSU with support from various government agencies and agricultural businesses to adapt and develop direct-seeding systems for annual cropping in the 12- to 17-inch rainfall region of Eastern Washington. The region includes parts of Lincoln, Adams, Whitman, Grant, Douglas and Spokane counties.

The Wilke Farm is the hub of the project. Six growers, including the Kupers, are replicating direct seeding rotations on their farms.

“A lot of farmers want to make the transition from the traditional wheat-barley- summer fallow rotation to this system,” Roberts said. “We are excited about the project and its potential to assist growers make the transition. The gift will help make it a reality.”

The Kupers’ decision to go no-till is based on a recognition of a changing national climate for agriculture. “Society at large is demanding a different environment and there is no question about the minority position farmers are in,” Karl said.

In his view, more restrictive regulations and laws governing what farmers can do are inevitable. “In addition, I couldn’t see how the federal government was going to continue to subsidize agriculture at the level it had been doing. There weren’t enough of us to justify how they could spend the money.”

With this in mind, the Kupers set a goal 15 years ago to farm without government subsidies in 10 years. “In 1985 we started looking at crop diversity as the way in which we were going to try to overcome the need for subsidization.”

It wasn’t a decision he could make on his own because he doesn’t own a speck of land. “I approached my landlords with that idea. They concurred.”

“We started in small increments,” Lexie said. We didn’t jump in with both feet.”

“Some people think we did,” Karl laughed.

They first tried canola and then grass seed. “That led us into no-till on its own because we had ground that was in a perennial crop grass from 1987 to 1995,” Karl said. “I began to see what the soil was doing without tillage.”

Other crops have followed, including millet, a component of birdseed.

The last piece of the puzzle fell into place in 1996 when Karl and a group of farmers flew to South Dakota to see research that blends no-till, with annual cropping and intense rotations.

“Combining diversity with no-till seemed to satisfy every environmental condition that I could foresee in the future as being a detriment to the way we normally farm, ” Karl said.

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