Portland Farm Tour to David Brewer’s Farm - The Dalles, Oregon

Connecting people to their food is a big part of who we are at Shepherd’s Grain. This is why we love getting to show off the wonderful farms that grow our wheat. This year, we took our customers to meet and tour David and Margaret Brewer’s farm located just east of Portland in The Dalles, Oregon. We had such a fun time giving our customers a behind-the-scenes look of where our flour comes from and the operations of a tillage-free farm!

All Aboard!

Fueled with Blue Star Donuts, Henry Higgins Bagels, and strong coffee we boarded the brand new Northwest Navigator charter bus at 9:00 am. While we waited for everybody to get settled we heard introductions from our Sales Managers, Debbie Danekas & Lori Lusetti, Terry Wright our Events Coordinator, Mark Swenson our General Manager, and Farmer David Brewer, whose farm we are visiting as well as a round robin of introductions from everybody on the bus!

Over the Mountains

Our beautiful views of the Columbia River gorge were accompanied by farmer David Brewer’s facts and knowledge of the surrounding area. As we passed the Columbia River dams he spoke about hydroelectric power that is generated, as well as the impact on fish habitat and the boat transportation through the locks.

As the large basalt walls of the gorge stared back at us on our drive along Interstate 84, David taught us about how the gorge was formed by the Columbia River and The Great Missoula Flood as a result of glaciation from the last ice age. This left the noticeable layers on the side of the gorge as well as giving us the silty soil that we have in the Northwest today.

The Farm

As we drive up a long windy gravel road- all you can see are rolling hills of deep green wheat fields. The taller wheat that we first drive by is the Hard Red Winter Wheat, and the smaller wheat rows that we see in the distance is Dark Northern Spring Wheat (also known in the northwest as DNS). As we’re confronted with some barren land, David talked about the impact of the July 3rd, 2018 fires that burned many of his 2,400 acres including the original homestead and barn built in the 1800’s.

Our first stop at the farm is to see the magic of a tractor and no-till drill. We first notice how the tractor has triangle “tracks” instead of wheels, which is for stability and accuracy on the steep rolling hills. David then hops in the tractor so we get to see it in action and demonstrates how the disks roll on the ground, which reduces impact on the soil while planting the seeds. Some fun things we learned about this tractor was that it uses a GPS signal to auto steer (if you’ve ever wondered how they get the lines so straight!) as well as the yellow bin that David personally added to the tractor which allows him to seed 2 different crops at one time. With this tractor he can seed up to 1 million seeds per acre!

Cover Crops

As we see the faint yellow canola that he has planted on the hillsides, David talks about the importance of cover crops and crop rotation on a no-till farm. Both cover crops and crop rotation are pivotal for soil health. Cover crops aren’t planted to be harvested, they’re planted when the soil would normally otherwise be bare after the harvested crop. The cover crops provide protection for the soil, minimizing erosion and increasing organic matter.

David also mentioned how crop rotation is essential for weed control in a no-till environment. If you only plant the same crops (called monoculture) then the weeds will adapt and take over your soil. When you rotate crops around, the weeds aren’t as susceptible to do that. Growing and rotating different crops will then help add nutrients to the soil and also helps with disease control.

Lunch & Learning

Delicious lunch served by Pine Street Bakery of baguettes (with bread made with Shepherd’s Grain flour of course), freshly baked cookies and cold beverages in the in front of the house and where we got to listen to Jeremy (our logistics manager), Mark (our general manager), Shawn Lindhorst from ADM Milling, and Shepherd’s Grain Farmers Kurt Blume and Tim Melville about the importance and why they switched to no-till farming. One of the best parts about this time was Blue Star Donuts Marketing Director Jessica presenting David Brewer with a $5,000 check from the proceeds of their CBD donut sales that had a portion go towards his farm to help with the damages from the Substation fire. It was awesome! Here are some other learnings from the lunch speakers:

Farmer Kurt Blume who got involved back in 2004 shared that they saw the importance of no-till farming early in 1999 when they noticed soils with half of the organic matter that they used to have and their soil didn’t hold as much water as it used to. He explains how it is now written into his lease that “they are committed to rejuvenate and restore the natural resource”. He talked about the efficiency of no-till and how it actually cuts about 1/3 fuel consumption compared to conventional farming.

Farmer Tim Melville was asked why he joined Shepherd’s Grain. His answer was simple: He joined mainly for the marketing opportunity that is associated with Shepherd’s Grain since he has been practicing no-till farming on his farm since the 70’s and it just made sense from an economic standpoint. “Using no till practices you can plant an acre in 4 minutes where conventionally it took 2o minutes. Saves time and it saves fuel.” He also talked about the importance of crop rotation and how it will naturally keep weeds out of your fields.

Shawn from ADM Milling talked about the partnership that started 15 years ago when Co-Founders Fred and Karl came into the office and asked them to take a chance with milling Shepherd’s Grain wheat, since they were so small they would only bringing in 1 truck every couple of months. Since then, Shepherd’s grain now brings in 10-12 trucks a week! Their attention to quality and detail are what really set them apart and help us maintain such great quality and consistency in every bag of flour.

Combine Time

After lunch we walked up to the shop where the large combine is stored, and David explained the process of separating the wheat into the grain that is then taken to the ADM mill. They use sustainable practices every step of the way - even harvesting with the combine. The combine just takes off the top of the wheat stalk which leaves the stubble that then protects the soil from wind, water and snow erosion. The combine shakes the head of the stalk from the grain and then the grain is stored in a bin on the combine while the rest of the organic matter is distributed back onto the soil. When the grain bin gets too full, the grain cart comes and pulls up next to the combine and unloads the grain into the cart (often times while it is still moving!). The grain is then stored in the big metal silos located at the back of the Brewer Farm.

Herd the news?

We got to visit the cows and their new babies that also play a huge role on The Brewer Farm. The cows graze on the cover crops while adding nutrients to the soil. With cows foraging in the fields, they find higher residue on the soil which is key for overall soil health and crop growth.

Back on the Bus!

After we were done learning about the cows and seeing all of the new cute calves, we then loaded and headed back to the west side. Our ride back was full of questions for David Brewer, cold beverages from Fort George Brewery and some fun Oregon trivia! Couldn’t have asked for a better day with our great customers, farmers, and team!