Award-winning Eastern Washington program supports farms and clean water

With expansive farmland across the state, Washington is home to one of the most productive agricultural industries in America. The industry brings vital employment and economic benefit to communities - and serves as a key partner in protecting clean water throughout the state.

Ecology has partnered with Spokane Conservation District, Pacific Northwest Direct Seed Association, and agricultural landowners in Eastern Washington to seek solutions that support not only water quality but also producers. The partnership recently received a national award for exemplifying creative solutions in supporting sustainable agriculture and clean water.  

“Our partnership with the Department of Ecology and EPA has been integral to getting thousands of acres of direct seed and no-tillage on the ground in Eastern Washington. The program is one of the best conservation adaption programs in the country,” says Ty Meyer of Spokane Conservation District and Farmed Smart Program Manager.

Every year, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognizes state projects that exemplify innovation and progress towards protecting water quality with the PISCES award. Of the 20 projects recognized this year, only five received an Exceptional Project designation, including Washington’s Farmed Smart Certification & Direct Seed Loan Implementation Program. We want to take this opportunity to share more about the program and thank our partners for their ongoing commitment to supporting both healthy water and farms.

Picses Award Winners From left to right: Dr. Sawyers (EPA), Ty Meyer (Spokane Conservation District), Kim Wager (Ecology), and George Ames (EPA). Ty and Kim accepting the PISCES award

From left to right: Dr. Sawyers (Office of Wastewater Management), Ty Meyer (Spokane Conservation District), Kim Wager (Ecology), and George Ames (EPA). Ty and Kim accepting the PISCES award

Agricultural practices can help protect water quality

Decisions producers make in how they prepare their land for planting and manage crops can have direct impacts on nearby waterways. Traditional practices are often intensive, can lead to soil erosion, and degrade stream channels and buffers.

Shifts in land use practices, such as using technology that reduces soil disturbance and planting and maintaining a riparian strip along streams, positively impact water quality. Trees and other plants provide shade to keep water cool and help filter out nutrients and chemicals from entering streams. The practice of seeding a crop into the stubble of the previous season’s crop, called direct seeding, can reduce soil erosion by as much as 95% and helps prevent sediment, nutrients, and chemicals from ending up in nearby waterways.

An image showing Comparison of sites in Eastern Washington that use traditional tillage and direct seed practices

Comparison of sites in Eastern Washington that use traditional tillage and direct seed practices

Partnerships and creativity win the day

In 2013, we partnered with Pacific Northwest Direct Seed Association, an organization of direct seed producers in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, to develop the Farmed Smart Certification. The program certifies agricultural producers who adopt high levels of conservation practices. Certification provides assurances for producers and recognition from Ecology that water quality requirements are met on their land. It also empowers consumers to select certified products, influencing market demand and producers’ perception of and willingness to use practices that protect water quality.

Farmed Smart Video

We partnered with Spokane Conservation District, providing over $3 million to implement both the Farmed Smart Certification and Direct Seed Loan Implementation Program. Along with implementing Farmed Smart, Spokane Conservation District provides a direct seed cost-share and low-interest loan program for farmers to purchase direct seed technology.

Cost to purchase equipment can be a hurdle; a direct seed drill can cost up to $300,000. By helping to make equipment more affordable, the program takes an innovative approach to get equipment and solutions on the ground to benefit both agricultural producers and water quality.

The approach has paid off. As of 2023, many producers have taken steps to invest in their land and protect local waterways, including:

  • Six agricultural producers received Farmed Smart certification, resulting in 30,000 acres certified using regenerative soil health practices.
  • 32 loans helped purchase direct seed equipment, supporting more environmentally-friendly tillage practices across 107,000 acres.
  • Two producers used direct seed cost-share on a total of 1,135 acres, preventing an estimated 7,000 tons of sediment from entering nearby waterways.

Securing clean water for Eastern Washington and beyond

Through Farmed Smart and direct seed implementation programs, we are working together with Spokane Conservation District and producers to prevent pollution in Eastern Washington, especially within the Spokane River and Palouse River Watersheds.

"Agriculture is an important piece of our regional economy. We've learned along the way working with our partners that we don't have to choose between clean water and a healthy and productive agriculture industry in Washington. We can achieve both by using tools like our Farmed Smart Certification and Direct Seed Loan Program,” explains Chad Atkins, Ecology’s Watershed Unit Supervisor for Eastern Washington.

The award-winning approach to innovative funding strategies and collaborative partnerships is an example of how to support both clean water goals and productive farms. And the work will continue – we recently awarded Spokane Conservation District an additional $3.7 million to continue funding the Direct Seed Loan Program.

Landowners interested in learning more about the Farmed Smart Certification and other conservation agriculture practices can learn more at Farmed Smart – Spokane Conservation District (