Solving the Palouse Problem.

The Problem: 5,000 generations to build and 4 generations to alter the land and tear it apart.  

Leave it alone, touch it and feel it, the rule of the minimums will be applied and we will all be better for it.


Looking South to Southwest towards Steptoe Butte and directly over the Idaho state line and close to Farmington/Tekoa, WA.  

North to South section lines are shown primarily from top to bottom of the picture. 

North to South Fence lines are created with 125-year tillage effects typically allowing snow to stack up to 3-foot depths on the fence row.  

Steptoe Butte is shown, The Palouse River Canyon, Kamiak Butte is shown….and on the Horizon, is the barely visible Snake River Canyon and the Blue Mountains of Walla Walla.  

Snow fall patterns create deep drifts on North to Northeast facing slopes. The slopes face the Northeast and away from the sun creating long shadows and a micro environment.  

This windblown design is totally opposite of the glacially formed loess Sand Hills of Nebraska where the north slopes are long and south slopes are steep.

Aligning up on the North South line with Steptoe Butte in the picture you can get a good visual review of man’s effect on the rolling plain.

Prescott, Washington, Deep deposits of volcanic ash formed hillside elevations of 500 feet. 
Top to bottom 500 feet of windblown loess and Cascade volcanic ash.
The Rocky Mountains acting as flow vortices formulating a non-uniform drop out of volcanic ash.

A transition of time of over 100,000 years or 5,000 generations.

In some locations the Palouse is severely altered by 3 to 4 generations.

It has not been farmed long and most likely will come to an economic end in two to four more generations with present practices.

Intensely farmed since 1955 with the development of Anhydrous Ammonia, the land has suffered.

The land was rapidly destroyed over a 25-year period following the development of NH3.

Today the farms have dropped pH levels from the original 7.2 to 4.5, An acidic wheat land soil with not major attempt to correct back to the original pH.

In some locations the Palouse top soil and landscape is severely altered by 3 to 4 generations.


Considering the volcanoes delivery of volcanic ash over the last ice age, 100,000 years (Mt Mazama eruption 5,677 BC). The last ice age was at a…maximum glacial extent 20,000 years ago, the Cordilleran Ice Sheet terminated at Spokane Washington and began to recede about 10,000 years ago. 

The Palouse landscape evolved with the help of snow and wind, and hundreds if not thousands of volcanic eruptions.  

Grasslands developed slowly at first and the cold season brome grasses acting as snow traps developing caches of ash. Thus, forming hills from blowing ash trapped by grass and snow.

No-tillage is the only answer. Exactrix Deere 1890 Banding TAPPS and TAPPKTS at high speed on steep Palouse Slopes.

Pockets of ash are often found in the Palouse soil profiles.
The deep ash pockets developed with no establishment of a grass roots to hold it.

The bunch and blue stem grass introduced carbon and propagated soil life. Soil was created over 100,000 years.    

North facing slopes store more moisture and developed more grass for grazing wild life.  The north facing slopes are thus higher quality soils across all elevations.  

No Buffalo herds were involved in the development of these grasslands.

A Yielder Drill seeds winter wheat in sight of Steptoe Butte, on October 7, 17 a fall scene at Garfield/Col., WA. Roger Pennell 35 years of continuous No-tillage. 

In fact, most native trees that remain from the 2,500 to 3,000 elevations are growing on north slopes with the same 2,500 to 3,000-foot south slopes producing crops or grass for grazing.   

Kamiak, Steptoe, Ladow, McKenzie, Ringo and the Buttes of Farmington, are good examples of micro climates of the buttes.   

The front range buttes, like Steptoe are the first ranges of the Rocky Mountains and are 400 million years of age and non volcanic.  

The Palouse River accepts high nutrient runoff (Phosphate) at 200 times above the national maximum in flood stage in an era before No-tillage. A big change has come to the land since 1974 and beginnings of No-tillage.

Mt. Shasta, Lassen, Mt Mazama (Crater Lake), Three Sisters, Bachelor, Jefferson, Washington, Hood,
St. Helens, Adams, Rainer and Baker are good suppliers of volcanic ash to the Palouse.
For sure 150 Strato volcanos supplied the ash to develop these soils. Some large and some were small.
About 17 smaller Strato volcanoes surround Mt Mazama or Crater Lake

From Wikipedia.
Mount Mazama
is a complex volcano in the Oregon segment of the Cascade Volcanic Arc and the Cascade Range located in the United States. The volcano's collapsed caldera holds Crater Lake, and the entire mountain is located within Crater Lake National Park. Its caldera was created by an eruption 42 times greater than the Mount St. Helens eruption of 1980.

Mazama’s summit was destroyed by a volcanic eruption that occurred around 5677 BC, ± 150 years.
[1][3] The eruption reduced Mazama’ s approximate 12,000-foot (3,700 m) height by about 1 mile (1,600 m). Much of the volcano fell into the volcano's partially emptied neck and magma chamber. At 8,159 feet (2,487 m), Hillman Peak is now the highest point on the rim.

Micro Climates and North to Northwest patterns were established in wave formations. A definitive stacked or layered, lift and fall pattern was established. The result of windblown loess were high value soils. The weather pattern and the soil development made the land ideal for winter crops such as winter wheat, winter canola and perennial crops.

The crop production story was less desirable for spring crops since there was very little summer rainfall.  
However, irrigation changed lower Columbia Basin.
The critical part of the equation was the light rainfall pattern with a moderating lift in the clouds from the Pacific Push 48-hour duration storms.

The rainstorms were not severe, about 1 inch in 24 hours to about 2 inches in 8 hours. The rain storms of any significance did not come in the summer time. Snow accumulated easily on slopes facing to the north. The rolling landscape, deep soils developed by grass species with roots to 12 to 15 feet in depth and even deeper. The grasses matured quickly in permanent cover of the land, e.g. Big Bluestem and Bunch Grass. 

In fact, 5,000 to 10,000 years ago, 70% to 95% of the moisture came as snow allowing a slow perk of water into the grassland soils. Root channels and worm holes were key.
Thus, the water erosion of the developing soil was minimal due to the long duration and lighter delivery rainstorms.  Snowstorms provided most of the moisture. 

The pattern of rainfall and type of rainstorm is totally contrary to the rainstorms of the Great Plains. The mountains and the moderating elevation changes protected
these soils from eroding cloudbursts.  

From Wikipedia.
Giant Palouse Earthworms roamed and grazed the Palouse soils as a specific evolved species that harvested the residue and allowed deep penetration of the melting snow pack.

Up to 3.3 feet in length, Burrows to 15 feet and
enjoys surface residue creating worm hole channels for moisture infiltration.

The Palouse Giant Earthworm had a critical part in developing Palouse Soils, Right along with Cascade 150 Strato Volcanoes.

The steeper north slopes were filled with snow during 9 to 10 months slowly melting into the soil profile. The south facing slopes warmed early and were snow covered about 6 to 8 months of the year.  

With each explosion of the Cascade Strato volcanoes from Northern California to Northern Washington a load of ash was deposited across the country to the Dakotas, Alberta, Nebraska and Kansas.  

The deepest deposits were made close to quick elevation change mountains.
A combination of wind and a natural bowl of millions of acres allowed the ash to drop at various specific gravities creating a rolling terrain.  The rainbow effect allowed coarse materials to fall out quicker.

From Wikipedia.
Left to Right: Mount Baker, Mount Rainier, Mt. Shasta, Mount St. Helens, Mt. Adams and Mount Hood



All Cascade Volcanoes supplied volcanic ash as the standardized direction of air flow was from the south west to the North to Northeast. Obviously not always was the airborne flow perfect to the Palouse. The quick elevation change mountains had a lot to do with drop out of the ash deposit before lifting over the Rockies.
Due west 100 miles is 7,000-foot Bitterroot range, 200 miles west, The Montana Continental Divide, and 250 to 350 miles west the13,000-foot Lemhi and Pioneer Range and 14,000-foot Teton Range of Idaho and Wyoming.

The lower elevations of the Columbia Basin at 300 feet received deep charges of ash of a coarse nature. Finer ash was deposited at the 2,000 2,500 feet in the big lift over the 5,000-foot Blue Mountains and the 4,000-foot Palouse Range of the Rocky Mountains.
As the elevation increased to 1,000 feet to 2,500 finer and finer ash was deposited in the Northwestern progression of the “Rainbow Effect”. 

A truly wonderful event in the airborne delivery from each Cascade Volcano.  



Pacific winds and Jet Stream can carry small volcanic ash across North America from 150 Strato-Volcanoes of the last 100,000 years. 

The Yellowstone Caldera is also contributor to the stratospheric lifting corridor several times in the last 600,000 years. The ash can be found 2,000 to 3,000 miles away from the eruption site. Ashland, Nebraska receives soil from Yellowstone about 1,000 miles away.  The smaller particles move up high in the atmosphere and travel the furtherest.  

The size of the volcanic ash deposit is considerable bigger the closer to the eruption point.  Mt. St.Helens delivered fine ash across the Rocky Mountains to the Tetons of Wyoming in a 10 hour period. The coarse ash was deposited about 60 to 100 miles away in the Columbia Basin at Ephrata and Ritzville, Washington in less than a 2 hour period.  

In a recent review of a New Guinea Volcanoes it is was the discovered that the 1994 double eruption of Vulcan and Tavurvur in Papua, New Guinea covered the nearby city of Rabaul in a layer of ash about 2 feet deep, Some areas closer to the volcanoes actually had deposits of 5 to 7 feet.  

Over 100,000 years 150 Strato Volcanoes can easily be regarded as the soil suppliers and the beginning of the Palouse Country came from the great Cascade Mountain Range. A  North American airlift of soil creating wealth beyond belief. So the 200 to 500 foot depths of volcanic ash soil are entirely possible given the aspect of time. Flora, Fauna, Global Temperatures, The Pacific Ocean and the Landscape of the Rocky Mountains made the difference.  As stated and for sure the rainfall and or snowfall patterns made a tremendous contribution.  

“The Blues” at Walla Walla.  A precursor range of the Rocky Mountains.  

A quick change in elevation from 300 feet above sea level to 6,400 feet at Oregon Butte. From the Columbia and Snake River to the top of the Blues there is a quick elevation change.   

In over 40 miles from the navigable rivers to the mountain tops, a vortex of ash was deposited with the help of the Blue Mountains on the Horizon.  

The Blue Mountains of Washington and Oregon were critical in the soil formation of the Palouse along with the Bitterroot Range of Montana and Idaho.  The White Pine Forest of Northern Idaho is creatively formed with volcanic ash deposits of the Cascade Volcanoes

Lower Granite Dam.
Whitman County Washington and in site of the Blue Mountains.

  • Leaving no fish behind.

  • A Corp of Engineers advanced design that allows for fish, power, navigation and irrigation.


Juvenile fish hitch a ride at the Lower Granite Dam in the Little Goose Dam Pool.

  • Grain moves to Portland from this location at Almota.

The 5,000-foot Blue Mountains of Walla Walla provided the transition of airborne flow of volcanic ash. Deposits were made in the Rainbow effect of heavy vs lighter ash.

The 2,000-foot lift created by the Columbia plateau elevation change allowed the highest volcanic ash deposits to be made very close to the Palouse and Moscow mountains at 3,500 to 4,800 feet, as well as the Blue mountains of Walla Walla at 5,000 feet.

Giant lava flows at depths of 3 miles provide a basalt foundation for the volcanic ash.

  • Fissures or cracks in the earth’s mantle are called Dike Fissures.

  • Nick Zenter reports on Flood Basalts.

  • Dike Fissures made the lava flows up to 100 miles long and each layer 200 to 500 feet deep.

  • The Palouse is a lower elevation ash and loess deposit on a 7 million to 15-million-year-old lava rock, basalt plain.

  • A wonderful target for volcanic ash, drifting snow, and grassland development in a sub alpine climate involving herds of Caribou and later Elk.

  • The ash of Mt St. Helens became the Palouse country.

Large Family Herds of two Mammoth Species Grazed The Palouse Grassland Resource.

Columbian Mammoth, Tusks 16 feet in length.
Femur Bones as tall as a man.
Weighing 18,000 to 22,000 lbs.  

African Elephants at 13,000 lbs. max. and 10 feet tall are about 60% to 75% the size of Columbian Mammoths at 13 feet tall.  

  • African elephants excrete about 280 lbs. of grass and sedge dung per day in 2 hour intervals.
  • Columbian Mammoths based on size would return to the land 466 lbs. per day of grass and sedge dung per day.
  • If food supply is plentiful African elephants will eat 992 lbs. of grass and sedge per day.
  • Based on this observation of African Elephants with a good food supply the Columbian mammoth could eat up 1 ton per day and excrete1,600 to 1,700 lbs. per day of dung.
  • So a good food supply of healthy grass and sedge may have started to disappear (desertification) at the end of the last Ice Age or about 16,000 to 10,000 years ago.
  • One of the last great holdouts for good grass and sedge was most likely the Palouse and just before the Great Missoula Floods of 10,000 years ago.

The largest mammal ever on the planet grazed the Palouse with other Ice Age mammals, Saber Tooth Tiger, Dire Wolfs, Reindeer, Musk Ox, Horse and Short Faced Bears 

The Columbian Mammoth was much bigger than the Woolly Mammoth probably due to a more extensive and open food supply for the Columbian Mammoth.

  • The Woolly Mammoth was small and dealt with more harsh survival conditions of advancing and receding glaciers in the Interlaken geography of the Ice Age.  
  • Several fossil finds of the Columbian Mammoth were made in the 1876 period in bogs and springs of Latah and Rosalia, WA.

The prime  overland herbivore was able to feast on tall grasses such as big bluestem and bunch grass eating constantly up to 400 to 500 lbs. per day.  

The Columbian Mammoth began to close its history on the Palouse and Columbia Basin about the time of The Great Missoula Floods. 

The mammoth began to phase out about 13.000 to 10,000 years ago due  to climate change such as natural grass and forest burning reducing the food supply. 

Hunting of Columbia Mammoths is considered a major factor in the decline of the very large mammal with a long gestation period.

The overlapping range of two species of mammoth over several Ice Ages based on fossil findings.

  • In Washington State, The Columbia Basin and The Palouse are locations inhabited by the Woolly Mammoth(Blue)and the Columbian Mammoth(Red).
  • A viable range for the world’s largest mammal for 1.5 million years.

Coming in for a landing, and a quick take off.


  • The light spot in field was too steep to farm thus the term “eyebrow”. The eyebrow was pushed in leaving a volcanic ash deposit.

  • Adjusting or eliminating the eyebrow’s position on the slope improves the farming efficiency.

  • Most of the eyebrows are at the Angle of Repose and just not worth the risk of a realignment or the dozer push in technique.


Make a lot of money with no life insurance.

Truth or Consequences. For every action there is an opposite but equal reaction.
The results of tillage are shown in the mud flow of soil into the Snake River.   

  • The Palouse River in March is the most polluted in the nation.

  • Flood Stage at the mouth of the Palouse River delivers a mud flow of Palouse soils to the Snake River in a 190 foot drop.

  • No high quality game fish swim in this river due to the cataract drop and the pollution of farmer introductions of the pollutants.

No-tillage is the solution.  Gravity is working against every Palouse farmer. , Tango Foxtrot, Red Green. Stopping the Tillage.

Erosion created by tillage, rotation and a bad manager.

  • Erosion is not a common event in No-tillage farming.

  • In fact, just the opposite with soils improving with single pass two pass crop rotations using single disc openers and stopping tillage.

  • Gravity on steep slopes simply takes over when the roots are broken the soil moves downhill.

  • Tillage takes away the root channels and worm holes and assures that rainfall cannot penetrate the soil to deeper depths.

  • Rainfall must go into the soil where it falls. Runoff is lost yield and soil lost.

  • About 20 to 25 inches of moisture can be stored in the root zone of high quality winter canola and winter wheat.

    Placing bets on a good crop requires tillage to be eliminated.

No-tillage Farming changed the Palouse. Yielder Drills and "Old Yeller" forever changed the chances.
More about the history of No-tillage in PNW and Ohio.

Advancements into 2018 show improved soil structure and a good chance for the next generation
Giant No-tillage Crops for 35 years prove that there is no other way.

In 1974, No-tillage starts in sight of Steptoe Butte. “Old Yeller” and Mort Swanson on the Palouse. 

100,000 years to build.
100 years to destroy.

  • And a chance to begin rebuilding the soil in a land-owner’s lifetime. This is a very big deal.

  • Stopping the tillage is critical and moving away from Winter Wheat.

  • In certain areas, 90% of the erosion comes from the Winter Wheat Rotation.

Changing the rotation to more functional and economic crops like Winter Canola is critical.    Learn More about Winter Canola and how it is raised to stop erosion in the PNW.

Fall 2016, The Palouse has a last chance with advanced producers.

At St. John Washington, Century Farms, Ross Jordan expands in 2 pass No-tillage crop production fall banding Exactrix TAPPS for spring wheat.

The Palouse Problem, has it been fully explained?  
Not all is understood yet.
The next chapter with 100,000 more years of man-made soil management, the dynamic Palouse will look a lot different. Less Erosive Winter Wheat Because It is a Costly Crop.

March 11, 2018. Returning to Spokane from Denver. Southwest Flight about 3:25 pm.  

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Guy Swanson
Exactrix Global Systems
Your Great Plains Reporter

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