Eastern Washington wheat growers may be interested a new Washington State University Extension technical bulletin titled, “Cover Cropping and Companion Cropping for the Inland Northwest: An Initial Feasibility Study”.

The technical bulletin describes recent work on cover crops and companion cropping done by Diana Roberts, Spokane County Extension Specialist, together with Lincoln and Spokane County farmers, at the WSU Wilke Research Farm. 

In 2011, farmers who attended a Washington State University Extension workshop were inspired and intrigued by the success of Midwest farmers in using cover-crop cocktails for this purpose. 

A group of innovative growers developed the goal of learning how to include a cover crop or companion crop in their rotation to raise soil organic matter levels, break disease cycles, suppress weeds, penetrate soil compaction layers, and improve soil fertility by fixing atmospheric nitrogen.

Multi-species cover crops and companion crops grown to improve soil health within grain production systems are of increasing interest nationwide. In addition, they wanted to make this system work with the winter precipitation (Mediterranean climate) of their area.

To maximize benefit to the reader, the experimental process is outlined, including mistakes and lessons learned. In this study, spring seeding of cover crops in place of fallowing the ground resulted in excessive loss of soil moisture. This, in turn, raised the risk of crop germination failure in the subsequent fall. 

Growing companion crops together with a cash crop shows potential for attaining the growers’ desired goal. However, not all obstacles have been identified, and more research should be conducted to optimize recommendations.