Noah Williams and his wife, Tawnya live in Wasco, Ore., farming 2,800 acres of wheat in parts of both Wasco County and Sherman County.
In an area of the country where rainfall mainly occurs in the wintertime at a rate of approximately 10–14 inches annually, Williams has taken up the challenge of making cover crops work for his operation, building up the health of his soil. He acknowledges he is working against the general opinion that you can’t make cover crops work in a dryland wheat cropping system. But with the initial assistance of the Wasco Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) and his local USDA NRCS office, he has been experimenting and analyzing the use of cover crops and other soil health practices.
In the spring of 2016, with a small grant from Wasco SWCD, Williams installed soil moisture sensors on two neighboring fields – one with cover crops and one without. From the data collected, he can see exactly how much moisture was utilized by the cover crop and determine the best time to terminate.
With the integration of this tool into his operation, Williams can make decisions and changes based on the data provided while gaining a better understanding of soil infiltration and other benefits of cover crops. Today, Williams continues his work with the local NRCS agent to collect and analyze this data.
“To me, it’s not about the short-term gain, but it’s about the long-term benefit. I know I’m not going to have an instant return. If it takes 10 years of cover crops so I can farm for 20 years longer without depleting my soils, that’s a benefit to me,” Williams said.
Williams and his journey with cover crops has been showcased in the USDA NRCS campaign “Unlock the Secrets in the Soils” through his USDA NRCS Profile in Soil Health as well as the companion YouTube video entitled, “Cover crops on dryland wheat? Challenge accepted.”
To learn more about Williams and his operation in Oregon, be sure to visit his profile at the NACD website along with many other Soil Health Champions. If you or someone you know is interested in soil health and would like to become a member of this network, please contact NACD North Central Region Representative Beth Mason at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-946-4463 for more information.