From the Field - July 2016

July 31, 2016

On July 8th I joined nineteen of our farmers and six researchers from Washington State University and the University of Idaho on a field tour of Shepherd's Grain farms and research plots. We often talk about the reasons that we do what we do - eliminating tillage, preserving the trace ability of our wheat back to the farms where it is grown, quality testing of wheat varieties for superior baking quality, and our unique cost of production pricing model, but this was a day focused on the future and the ongoing research and focus on continuous improvement that is such a critical part of our dedication to sustainable practices. As we drove around and stood in fields, we looked at a variety of crops that are being introduced into our rotations to increase soil health and system resiliency. There were sunflowers, flax, sorghum, quinoa, oats, and chia just to name a few. This year mother nature has been kind to us and the fields were beautiful. But what I was most enthralled with was the discussions among farmers and researchers about what we are learning and the implications for the future of our farming practices. For me, a nonfarmer, I was once again at the complexity of considerations that go into farming. It is easy as a home gardener to think "if I want to grow flax, I just get some flax seeds and plant them." But the considerations of seeding rate, timing of planting, fertility, harvest methods etc... are unique to each crop. As we introduce these crops that are largely new to the PNW, it became clear that we are in many ways charting new territory in our push for ever increasing diversity. Once again I was humbled and proud to be among such creative and innovative people. With just one harvest per year, it is a painstaking process. Whether it is understanding the proper method for seeding sunflowers, or when to plant sorghum for optimum germination, there is a lot of trial and error involved. By collaborating among our group and with the researchers we can maximize the shared learning and save years of potential errors. Furthermore it also was clear that while these crops are commonly grown in other areas, the role of breeding for specific soils and ecosystems is critical. The same oats that grow well in North Dakota may not do as well in eastern Washington and the only way to find out is to try them. Breeding programs are very specific to regions and so the work we are doing is also providing valuable data to the University breeding programs and researchers to identify and select for the specific traits that will lead to the development of new varieties tailored to our unique growing conditions. It is exciting work, and once again puts our farms out on the cutting edge of innovation in our region. Just as Shepherd's Grain has profoundly influenced the breeding of hard wheats in the PNW, the work we are doing today will have a lasting benefit to growers throughout the region, providing greater opportunities to diversify their farms and improve the health of the ecosystem. It further highlights the fact the sustainability is not a destination but a journey of continuous learning and improvement. Thank you for being part of the Shepherd's Grain family.  

Mike Moran, General Manager