Agricultural Research Service scientists are testing alternative ways of tilling the soil and rotating crops to see if they can help wheat farmers in Oregon sequester more carbon in the soil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Soil organic carbon plays a major role in how well a cultivated field holds moisture, provides nutrients and remains productive. That can be a problem in eastern Oregon because the soils are relatively low in organic carbon.

Wheat farmers there traditionally plant winter wheat one year and leave the field fallow for a season, using traditional methods to plow before planting. Hero Gollany, a soil scientist at the ARS Columbia Plateau Conservation Research Center in Pendleton, Ore., is looking at three scenarios that may help.

In one field, she is comparing levels of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide emissions released from the traditional two-year rotation with an alternative three-year cycle of no-till winter wheat, followed by a second crop of no-till winter wheat, followed by sorghum. She is measuring residue yields, soil conditions, and greenhouse gas emissions, taking measurements throughout the year.

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