In the Palouse region of Idaho & Washington, agricultural lands are dominated by wheat production. The higher rainfall zones are largely in a three-year rotation of wheat-wheat-legume. In the lower rainfall zones continuous wheat is grown, or a two-year system of wheat-fallow is implemented. Whitman County, Washington, which encompasses the western part of the Palouse, is the largest wheat producing county in the nation.
Before the Palouse was settled by pioneers in the latter half of the 19th century, the region was a prairie with a diversity of vegetation, including broadleaf plants, grass plants, sedges, and various forbs. But once settled, it became clear that the Palouse was an ideal ecosystem for wheat production. Wheat handling infrastructure was built to accommodate this, and the export market in the Pacific Rim nations stood ready to support the mass production of wheat.
Shepherd’s Grain farmers recognize that bringing diversity back to the ecosystem within their farm operations is necessary for sustainable farming. Starting in 2014, Shepherd’s Grain helped subsidize on-farm research by Shepherd’s Grain grower Eric Odberg of Genesee, Idaho. The project entailed 32 acres to be used to try a lengthened crop rotation of six years that included a diversity of crops. Read more about the project here.
The first year of the project saw the 32 acres planted to proso millet, a crop that had not been grown commercially on the Palouse (or at least had not been tried for a long time). From planting date to harvest, it was a learning experience. But in the end it showed great promise. Since that time, Odberg has planted proso millet several times.
Washington State University (WSU) has had an ongoing program to research proso millet production in the Palouse region. Recently, WSU was awarded a grant by WSARE to research millet varieties best suited for growers and end-users. Shepherd’s Grain growers were eager to partner with WSU on this project, in hopes of learning more about millet production and of developing more local markets.
Capital Press recently put out an article highlighting WSU’s program, along with Eric Odberg’s and Shepherd’s Grain’s leadership in advancing millet production.