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Improving Water Management in Hazelnuts

17 Jul

On our farm we are always looking for ways to do more with less, improve efficiencies, work smarter and get more done with our hard working hours and dollars. 

We have slowly been moving away from hand line and wheel line irrigation and have made significant investments in linear irrigation systems. This year we made another move to even higher water use efficiency with drip irrigation in our hazelnut orchards. 

We plan to have at least half of our hazelnuts irrigated by drip this year. Which is exciting for many reasons. 

1. Labor: We used to water with hand lines. This took a minimum of three people to move pipe two to three times a day, around 2 hours each move.  And the cost of labor alone is going up significantly.  With our drip it will take only one person to turn the pump on, monitor valves and lines. 

2. Water when you want it and where you want it. Our drip system can easily be run from the pump that we already have and also can run at night when our pump is free from use on other crops. Simply put we can fill in the gaps to keep our pump running most efficiently. 

3. We can inject fertilizer by small doses to our trees. We consider this a spoon feeding approach and it’s shown to help trees grow and produce nuts at a more consistent level. 

4. We can keep our trees healthier by being able to get into the orchard at anytime to spray foliar feeds, kill pests or protect from disease, and not have to pick up pipe that is always in the way. 

5. Water from drip goes further. Drip irrigation has a 95% efficiency rating as compared to handlines which run at only 65%.  Factors such as evaporation and run off are considered when making this determination. 

Here’s a short video of our drip coming out of the tubing. 

You may wonder why we waited so long with a list of positives this long, well on the flip side of the pro and con list lies the cost of putting a system like this onto our farm. Luckily we already had the irrigation pump, but we had to add significant amount of underground mainline, put in a special filtration system, buy thousands of feet of drip tubing, build specialized equipment for putting the lines out and rolling them up. You can see it’s an investment in water, labor efficiency and equipment. 

So why now? Well first of all we have to budget beforehand in order to make improvements on our farm.  This is one improvement that we finally found room to add to our budget.  

And secondly we had some financial help from agencies that are focused on energy and water efficient projects. One being the Natural Resource and Conservation Service (NRCS) and the other Energy Trust of Oregon. Both gave us funds to help us implement this project. We also have Stettlers Supply in Salem Oregon to thank for doing a great job on installation and heading up the project. 

This investment is one of those long term plans that I often reference. This is an improvement that will serve Matt and I as the third generation and hopefully the fourth, the fifth and on and on! 

Cropping Decisions and the Weather

19 Jun

The cropping rotation on our farm, which includes around 11 different crops every year, is planned about 5 years out.  We plan that far out because there are a lot of things to consider.  Examples such as, which crops can follow others, keeping the mix of crops at the right acreage amounts, assessing our risk with each crop, what we can get contracts for, overall economics, level of labor intensity, etc.

But also the weather…oh that darn weather.  When we get a year like this past one, it doesn’t just mean that we wear our muck boots and rain gear more, it means that we have cropping decisions that are made for us by Mother Nature.

This field of green beans is the perfect example.

  • Plan A: Plant to Tall Fescue.
    Didn’t get the ground worked in time due to many circumstances.  On to plan B…
  • Plan B: Plant Perennial Ryegrass.
    It started to rain in early October….it never really stopped until that planting window was well closed.  So plan C it is…
  • Plan C: Plant peas.
    This would have worked, but then we got a contract for another crop that could potentially be better economically.  And finally Plan D…
  • Plan D: Green beans were planted….phew!

This is a bit oversimplified in many respects, but I thought it was a good way to show how much we are the mercy of the weather.  Other factors absolutely come into play, but the weather is one that we just can’t control and is tough to protect yourself against because it can be so unpredictable.  So the weather, economics, cropping decisions…they all play a part in the answer to what seems like the very simple question, “How do you decide what to plant in what field?”

So now this field when I drive by, just sort of exhausts me…it’s been a long road, and one that I will see happy to be harvested.  Of course it’s so we can go ahead and try again next year, Mother Nature willing of course!

Crimson Clover in Bloom 2017

22 May

I may be biased since I grow the stuff, but Crimson Clover has got to be one of the most beautiful crops ever grown!  It is currently in full bloom here in Oregon.  We grow the crimson for seed, which is used in many cover cropping systems, and also in wildlife mixes.  We grow it as a rotation crop on our ground that doesn’t have irrigation. It helps us keep our fields more weed free and it’s one of those amazing crops that actually puts nitrogen back into the soil! 

I was out spraying borders a few days ago, and got myself into a “situation” where I had some time to kill.  The “situation” was my little tractor getting stuck along one of the borders of one of these beautiful fields.  So while I was frustrated with the being stuck for a bit, and hungry because I got stuck at 11:45am (if you know me I rarely miss lunch!), I was also happy to be stranded with such a beautiful view.Here are a few shots of the fields. If you look closely you’ll notice there are a few bees flying around as well.  More accurately, a ton of bees! The whole field was literally buzzing with activity.  We bring in the bees to pollinate our crop, 1 hive per acre.  Without those bees, we wouldn’t have a seed crop to harvest!

So I guess in the end, even a frustrating “situation” isn’t so bad when you get to take in a view like this!

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