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Why All the Fuss about the Dust?

8 Oct

This time of year (mostly on social media) I hear so many complaints about the dust.

  • Why do they have to create so much dust? 
  • I can’t breathe, why the dust? 
  • Why do they have to work the ground to death?
  • Why don’t they cover crop? 
  • What about no-till farming?
  • Why, Why, Why??!!

Then this great (and timely) piece written by Tiffany Harper Monroe came out in the Eugene Register Guard entitled “From Dust till Dawn”. 

“As more people move into rural areas, it’s important for everyone to remember that farms and ranches are not just bucolic backgrounds. They are hard-working operations raising food and foliage, and sometimes that means there will be the associated dust, noise, smells and slow-moving farm equipment on the roads.”

I get it, I work in the dust and dirt and there are days where my teeth are gritty with it and my clothes are saturated.  So I want you to know that I’m not arguing that the dust isn’t annoying, but I am asking for a look at the bigger picture and hear another perspective.

This was after a particularly dust filled day transplanting cabbage.

It seems so simple from the outside looking in, straightforward answers and solutions, but when I try to sit down today and write down why we do all that we do and why it happens to create dust, it’s overwhelming.  Because the answers aren’t simple and straightforward, it’s a complicated web that reaches from our farm and across the world.

To make one thing very clear, my answer is not, “Well that’s how we have always done it.”  Also my answer is not, “I don’t know.”

FIELD & SOIL ROTATION
On our farm, one reason we till the soil (which often creates dust) is simply because of the crops that we grow.  We raise seed crops and vegetables on the soil that we till.  To do this our soils need to be rotated.  Rotating, which is done often by tillage helps in many ways.

  • Reduces our pest populations (mice and slugs)
  • Gives us a chance to kill unwanted weeds and plants without pesticides
  • Bring last years volunteer seeds to the surface so you can get a sprout and have a naturally occurring cover crop through the winter
  • Reduces disease pressure in the soil profile
  • Allows for more organic material to be put back into the soil
  • Gives certain parts of the soil a break while different crops are being cultivated

SEED GERMINATION & EROSION CONTROL
Working the soil is important because as we work it down into a seed bed, the seeds that we plant this fall will grow better and grow larger plants before the rains start this winter; helping with erosion. If you were to plant into subpar conditions, it’s really hard for the seeds to get up and growing.  It also can leave areas where the seeds don’t germinate at all, leaving space open for weeds to come in.

WEED CONTROL
Why do we care so much about weeds?  Well in any cover cropping, no till, earth saving book you read, at the end of the day, one of the most important factors is your ability to get clean seed to plant.  We provide that seed, and walking through a field to pull unwanted grass species isn’t fun. and isn’t cost effective.  So the better the seed bed of soil when you start, the better seed we can offer for whoever plants it – one with minimal weeds.

BEYOND JUST OUR FARM & OUR SOIL
As you can see my answers go beyond our farm and just our soil, the crops that we are growing in many cases are heading out as “clean seed lots” to be planted in no-till fields across the US.  They are heading out to re-seed pastures and be used as cover crops to protect topsoil.  When these crops grow on our land they are sequestering carbon.  The environmental benefits to what we are doing are huge, the dust, while unfortunate, is part of that picture too.  The whole ecosystem of agriculture that starts on farms across the US, is bigger and more complicated than one tractor in a field creating small particulates that frustrate some folks driving through the beautiful countryside.  It’s not about how we’ve always done things, it’s about how we are moving forward to continually find ways to make our soils healthier while continuing to produce some of the highest quality seed and food for folks across the map.

I encourage you to read Harper Monroe’s opinion article, it carefully spells out some of the other reasons that we do what we do on our farms.  It includes some great points regarding field burning and additional environmental benefits that farmland here in Oregon provides.

It seems so simple this “dust in the air” issue.  But I am asking you to open up your mind beyond “the fuss about the dust” and see that there is a complex system at work here.  I agree with Harper Monroe,  “The more we keep encouraging communication and building relationships between urban and rural residents, the more we will see that Lane County (and Oregon as a whole) is a place for all of us.”

Spraying Field Video

28 Jan

Ever wonder what it’s like to be in a sprayer, or why we’re out there at all? Check out my video from this morning on a beautiful day here in Oregon.

I go over a lot of different topics including cover crops, taking care of the soil, technology, and spraying herbicides.

As always I’m here for any questions about why we do what we do! Post below or contact me directly on the “Contact” tab. Thanks for stopping in and have a great day!

A Farmer’s Bottom Line

15 Aug

Everyday farmers make decisions that affect their bottom line.  Being a conventional farmer, I make decisions all the time regarding which chemicals to spray based on what the fields need and what they don’t.  But it’s not as simple as you may believe.  There are many factors at play, and this week I experienced just how complicated it can be.

Matt and I were out walking our green bean field that is due to be harvested this week.  While walking around, we noticed a good amount of spring wheat sprouting.  This wasn’t too surprising since last year the field was planted with spring wheat; these were “volunteer” plants growing from residual seeds left over.  We had both seen the wheat before, but figured that it wasn’t a big deal given that the harvesters would have no problem cutting through the thin stocks.  So, in our minds there was no issue. final-144The grassy looking crop is the spring wheat that has volunteered in the green bean field.

Unfortunately we were wrong.  After consulting with our field man, we were told that wheat is a huge issue because of allergens that could move from the field to the processor and eventually to the end product.  I have to tell you here that this never even crossed my mind, but I’m sure glad someone mentioned it to us!  If there is wheat found in your green bean crop, the processor can reject the whole field. Yes, that’s right; you would have to just leave the entire crop right there, unharvested. As you can imagine, this would be devastating to our farm.

This is where the story gets interesting. After telling us that this is a major problem, the next words out of the field man’s mouth were, “Too bad we didn’t find this last week, you could have sprayed.  But now it’s too close to harvest and the label doesn’t allow it.”

I’ll stop here and mention that all registered pesticides have a label attached. This is a booklet that is on the jug that outlines the rules and regulations behind spraying that pesticide. This is where you go to see the order for mixing chemicals, the precautions to use when handling the product including what protective gear to wear, and how long a person has to stay out of the sprayed area.  This is also where you find the “pre-harvest interval” or the amount of time required between application and harvest.

Matt and I hear this as we are standing in a field of green beans that we had worked hard to raise and take care of, one that would provide healthy food for thousands of people, one that hopefully will give us a good return and one that we hoped we were done spending money on.  And now we were faced with the knowledge that we could take two hours, with minimal cost in chemical, and get rid of the wheat entirely.  But that would not be following the label and would essentially be breaking the law.  Or we could tell all of our employees that they had to walk a field of green beans and pull wheat by hand, the cost of which would be substantial with six employees taking about four days to get this accomplished.  Also taking time away from other important tasks on the farm.final-145

I say this as though it was a decision that we talked about.  But it wasn’t.

The only option on our farm, the only option on farms across the nation, was to pay for the labor to get the job done right.  My point is that these rules are in place for a reason, and we all appreciate and respect that.  While I don’t have a regulator out in my fields all the time, I still follow the rules because there is good reason for them!  And it’s the right thing to do.

This week, when we head out to harvest these green beans, you can bet that my kiddos will be out there right beside us, eating those green beans that are being harvested right in front of them.  They will do that because the beans are safe, because we followed the rules, and because we farm responsibly, like farmers across America, to grow safe, high-quality food.

Decisions made on a farm are based on continuously moving parts.  Decisions made today might change if made tomorrow. Factors, such as the weather, pests, the crop, the timing of the plant itself, all come into play to make a seemingly simple decision to just go out and “dowse” our crops because it’s cheaper become incredibly complicated.  I have experienced this decision many times while farming, but the answer is always very clear: It’s not just about our bottom line, it’s about safe and healthy food. Period.

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