Tales from the Farm: Nollmeyer Farms JV | Reardan, Washington
In Jim’s words, “sustainable agriculture is the only way to ensure our ability to provide food, fuel, and fiber for future generations.” After witnessing years of land erosion caused by conventional tillage practices, Jim began converting to sustainable agriculture.
In 1985, Nollmeyer Farms began experimenting with no-till seeding techniques. The techniques were effective and two other owners agreed to completely invest in no-till farming. Nollmeyer Farms continued to increase the amount of no-till farming and scale back on conventional farming practices. In 1997, they sold all their conventional farming equipment and haven’t looked back since.
The Future Looks Brighter with No-till
Like so many kids where he grew up, Jim was raised on his father’s farm. Whether they were too much alike or different is yet to be determined, but Jim says he and his dad “butted heads” quite a bit back then. That is probably the main reason he planned not to return to farm life as he got older. He went off to boarding school and spent one year in college before realizing the classroom environment just wasn’t his bag of flour.
He quit school at 19 and got a job as a harvest worker for another Pacific Northwest farmer. After harvest season was over, they asked him to stay for the full year; they were looking for someone to mentor. The farm owner was a good farmer, dedicated to raising good crops – high quality wheat, above all, Jim said. “He was the biggest influence in my life in terms of what it means to do good, honest work.”
On Adopting No-till Practices
It was a slow process over many years to switch from conventional practices, Jim explained. His former neighbors, the Ellis’s, were the first in his community to give up traditional tillage. The other farmers in the area, along with Jim, watched in awe and learned by their neighbors’ example.
George Ellis, the patriarch and head farmer, became Jim’s mentor in those days. “He always told me he was too old to see the success of no-till on a large scale, so he encouraged me to see it through,” Jim said. And he has done so in spades. He shared with us his earliest memories of sitting on his front porch literally watching waves of mud rush over the bluffs into the Spokane River drainage. He knew then that water was important, and as he continues watching Long Lake get fuller each year, Jim takes pride in knowing Nollmeyer Farms JV is doing its part to reduce soil erosion with the no-till legacy George imparted onto him.
After George, an agriculture extension agent named Roger (last name unknown at time of article) took Jim under his wing. He showed him how deep the farming labor of love could go and spent the next 10 years coaching Jim on how to reduce tillage. Jim says Roger’s attitude stands out most – he wasn’t afraid to push others to take risks. Sadly, Roger’s life was cut short by a tragic accident, and Jim keeps those memories alive in his work at Nollmeyer Farms to this day.
Another close neighbor and “shirttail relative,” as Jim calls him, Fred Fleming (sound familiar?), began direct seeding in their rural Reardan, Washington community. It was a very slow process to start, which kicked off with an interesting makeshift invention: a modified tillage drill born out of sheer necessity, commitment, and a lack of resources at the time.
Some years after Fred pioneered the direct-seed effort in Reardan in 1996, Jim Nollmeyer bought his first direct seed drill. The Nollmeyers sold all their antiquated tillage equipment and invested the money they made into updating their sprayer and making enhancements to their direct seed equipment. They keep a few relics around: a disc, cultivator, and other such tools to tackle small projects around the farm, but it’s minimal. As with other farmers and partners of the Shepherd’s Grain collective, this is a huge accomplishment for Nollmeyer Farms and a move in the right direction for farming in general.
Heroes of the Hills: Shepherd’s Grain
“Not only am I proud of the way we farm on Nollmeyer Farms, addressing natural resources and wildlife needs and concerns, all Shepherd’s Grain farmers and our customers can rest assured that we’re top-notch conservationists who are doing well by the land,” Jim said, showing his poetic side. We asked him what he’s most excited about for the future of food, and he expressed an interest in doing presentations for customers, interacting with them, and helping bring Shepherd’s Grain closer to the domestic market.
He says if it weren’t for Shepherd’s Grain, the 19-or-so absentee landlords he rents from would have far less valuable assets. With direct-seeding and modern technology, Nollmeyer Farms controls inputs more closely and can avoid over-applying in the fields. Looking back on the days where he watched the mud flowing off the land and into the bottom of the watershed, he relishes the opportunity to develop new connections with the customer community.
That’s one thing that sets Shepherd’s Grain farmers apart: their commitment to transparency. Jim appreciates that a great deal and is grateful for the educational opportunities being part of the collective has afforded him. As one example, Jim had never before seen a milling facility. Joining Shepherd’s Grain exposed him to the whole end-to-end production and processing function. Before, he took his wheat to market and came back home with a paycheck in his pocket.
As the years go on, Jim says he looks forward to the “farm-to-table” trend carrying more vigor and credibility behind it instead of being another passing food fad. He predicts, as does much of the agricultural industry, Identity Preservation will become increasingly important in the future.