Cook Agronomy Farm

Washington State University’s newest farm, named for R. James Cook, was launched as a long-term direct-seed cropping systems research program by a team of WSU and USDA-ARS scientists in 2000.

The goals of the farm are to:

  • Play a leadership role through research, education and demonstration in helping growers in the high-precipitation areas of the Inland Northwest make the transition agronomically and economically to continuous direct-seeding (no-till farming) of land that has been tilled since farming began near the end of the 19th century.
  • Provide databases and understanding of the variable soil characteristics, pest pressures, and historic crop yield and quality attributes over a typical Palouse landscape as the foundation for the adoption and perfection of precision-agriculture technology in this region.

The farm is managed with continuous direct seeding techniques with commercial-scale equipment. Research is focused on developing direct seed cropping systems and precision-agriculture technologies for a “typical” eastern Palouse landscape where annual cropping is typically practiced. Guided by an Advisory Committee comprised of a diverse constituency, the research conducted at the Agronomy Farm will strive to develop new guiding principles and practices fundamental to reducing risks, increasing profits, conserving soil and other natural resources and improving environmental quality. The results will serve some 2.6 million acres in Washington and 1 million acres in Idaho, representing the higher-precipitation areas.

Dedicated to Dr. R. James Cook

The farm was named after R. James Cook in celebration of his highly productive career in research and public service for agriculture and environmental sustainability. His research shaped modern crop management methods to raise healthy crops by keeping pathogen populations, particularly soil pathogens, under control.  He made many contributions to our basic understanding of how agricultural practices manipulate populations of harmful and beneficial microbes in the soil and was a leader in the field of biocontrol of plant diseases. He pioneered the use of bacteria that grow on root surfaces and control fungal diseases not amenable to control by other methods. By genetic analysis of the effective bacterial strains, he and his coworkers determined that phenazine-type antibiotics are involved in biocontrol of root infecting pathogens.

Among many other honors Dr. Cook received over the course of his career, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and continues to support the agricultural sciences through this organization.

Plot map of Cook Farm.

Research at Cook Agronomy Farm

Research at the Cook Agronomy Farm involves more than 20 scientists.  It focuses on cropping techniques that optimize inputs, such as fertilizer and fuel, and protect natural resources, such as soil, but are productive and profitable.

Productivity of spring grain crops was mapped on the farm to a very fine scale in the 1999 and 2000 crop years. In 2001 a long-term direct seed cropping systems study was initiated using six three-year crop rotations: spring and winter wheat are planted two out of every 3 years, with the third crop either spring canola, winter lentils, spring or winter peas, or spring or winter barley.  The focus is on making a profit with continuous or near continuous cereals without depending on conventional tillage or stubble burning.

In addition to this basic management plan, numerous types of treatments are applied and data collected at specific sites within the farm.  To help monitor the specific experimental sites, a 90-acre portion of the farm has been intensively grid sampled at 370 sites referenced to global positioning satellites for data on soil characteristics, soil nutrients, soil water content and crop use, weed seedbank, and soilborne pathogens.  This portion of this farm is unquestionably the most intensively sampled and mapped field in the Inland Northwest.

Specific research projects include:

  • Precision application of fertilizer
  • Monitoring root disease pathogens
  • Changing weed seedbank dynamics
  • Monitoring organic matter and straw utilization
  • Residue management
  • Economics of no-till cropping systems across the landscape
  • Soil carbon sequestration and trading
  • N losses in tile drainage

Policy and Forms

If you are planning on doing research at Cook, Spillman, or PCFS Farms, then please use the forms below so we can improve the quality of your research. The land use request form is designed to help us in the planning phase and to track field operations and chemical usage through a database. The request form should be submitted at least 3 weeks prior to your estimated start date. At the conclusion of your experiment, you will be expected to complete the End of Year report. You will need to record actual chemicals used and their rates, GPS coordinates of your plot, any deviations from details listed on your request form, and other such details.

Location of Cook Agronomy Farm

Located in Whitman County, five miles Northeast of Pullman.

Exit State Highway 27 just north of Pullman near the McGregor Co. plant and rock crushing area and go 4.7 miles east on Whelan Road.

Supporters of Cook Agronomy Farm

Glenn Leitz
Retired farmer Glenn Leitz lives near Waverly, Washington at the same location he was born. He graduated from WSU with a degree in agriculture in 1952. After serving in the army, he returned home to take up a career in farming. After retiring, Glenn began to pursue an interest in the area’s pioneer history and became active in a number of historical organizations. Glenn has researched and written about local history and has written stories for a number of regional historical publications. He also is author of three books, the most recent being, Long Ago in the Northern Palouse: An Anthology of Pioneer People, Places and Events (Marquette Book LLC)

Corbett Direct Seed Precision
(Carol Quigg & Jerry Sheffels)

Camas Creek Ranch
Fairfield, ID

Washington Wheat Commission

Washington State Department of Ecology