From the Field - May 2016

May 25, 2016

Highest quality flour is our goal!

Jeremy Bunch, Logistics and Crop Quality

In previous newsletters, I have explained how it is that Shepherd's Grain controls wheat quality so that we end up with a high quality and consistent flour. This includes selecting the varieties of wheat we will accept from our growers and that is based on the baking qualities of those varieties. We take samples of the wheat from each grower at harvest, send those samples off to a lab to have them milled and tested, and then we know all of the performance characteristics of each farmer's wheat. 

What I want to highlight is our partnership with the ADM Milling Co., located in Spokane, WA and the great teamwork we have with them to make this high level of quality control work. We send all of these "harvest samples" to ADM's lab in Overland Park, Kansas, their home office. It is a time consuming task to gather all of the samples and it is a time consuming project that we are asking them to do by testing all of our farmers' wheat. But our partnership with ADM to create the highest quality flour is worth the effort. This would not be possible if we did not identity preserve each farmer's wheat to begin with. In this way, Shepherd's Grain flour is truly unique. We know that flour performance consistency is one of the highest, if not the highest, qualities our customers look for. We have the ability to fine tune our flour's consistency because we have a lot of data about the wheat and a lot of eyes looking at the wheat we have to work with. We are confident we are creating superior flours because of all this effort.

Spring Farm Tour Successful

On May 3rd , we hosted a farm tour for about fifty people, meeting our farmers and hearing and seeing firsthand what Shepherd's Grain farms are doing to improve the quality of the land and the food they grow. We spent time at Jim and Barb Nollmeyers' farm in Reardan and David and Bryan Dobbins' farm in Cheney and were also joined by Founder Fred Fleming and many of our growers. Our business associates and friends, Shawn and Heather from ADM were also on hand to discuss our relationship and to answer questions about milling and the unique and critical measures we take to ensure quality and consistency. As always it was great to see so many friends and meet several new ones. The weather was great as was the conversation and company. 

We were also very fortunate to be joined by Chad Kruger, Director of WSU's Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at WSU Mount Vernon.  While at the Dobbins farm, Chad spoke to attendees about his work on sustainable agricultural systems and in particular their focus on increasing resiliency in the phase of climate change. At the heart of this is a greater focus on soil health and biodiversity. As instability and extreme weather events are predicted to increase in severity and frequency, agricultural practices need to adapt to become more responsive and resilient as changes occur. For example, by minimizing soil disturbance and increasing crop residue on the surface, Shepherd's Grain farmers experience more stable soil temperatures in the face of more dramatic swings in air temperature. This also contributes to greater microbial activity in the soil that increases both porosity - the ability of the soil to capture moisture more easily, especially during heavy downpours, and retention capacity, trapping more water in the soil for greater access to roots through dry periods. This is just one example of the ways that we are working to ensure the long term productivity and sustainability of our farms, and WSU is playing a central role in helping us better understand the complexity of a changing climate.  

We will be doing farm tours a couple times a year and would love to have everyone join us to meet the farmers and learn more about the many ways we are working to build stronger more resilient farmland for future generations. Please let us know if you or any of your employees would like to attend the next farm tour, and thanks again for all your support. 

Why spring is my favorite time of year

Art Schultheis, Diamond-S Farms, Colton, WA

What a beautiful time of the year!  Everything is green and growing and the cool, crisp mornings turn into sunny afternoons.  Spring time is my favorite time of year.  In between the almost 3 inches of rain we received in April, we were able to get all the spring crops planted and the fall crops sprayed for weeds and rust prevention, along with adding additional fertilizer to maintain yield and protein goals.  We planted dark northern spring wheat, hard white spring wheat, malt barley, small brown lentils, and large & small garbanzo beans along with a few acres of beardless barley/oat mix that we will make hay for our cattle for next winter's feeding.  The garbanzo beans that were seeded the last few days of April are just emerging from the ground.  We are trying to be diverse in our rotations to help control weeds and diseases that are created by one crop, but are suppressed and controlled by another.  We are of the belief that this also promotes soil health and the billions of micro-organisms that live in our soil and support the growth of our crops. 

Right now we are cleaning up and fixing equipment used during the 6 weeks of planting fury.  On days the wind doesn't blow, we are trying to stay ahead of the ever emerging weeds in the fencerows and non-cropland areas.  If we keep the weeds to a minimum around the borders of our fields, it keeps the rest of the fields cleaner and easier to control in coming years.