Wallowa County Farmers Embrace Soil Health

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Wallowa County farmers look to innovation

By Tracy Robillard
Wallowa County Chieftain | October 9th, 2018

In Oregon farming communities, a common reaction to the idea of practices that enhance soil health is: “That won’t work here.”

A group of farmers in Wallowa County are proving the naysayers wrong — replacing skepticism with innovation. Over the last few years, these farmers have teamed up to share ideas, experiment with field trials and seek technical expertise to develop a unique recipe for soil health that suits their operation.

And even better — they are seeing results on-the-ground, such as better soil moisture and water infiltration, reduced weed pressure, higher crop yields, and enhanced cattle forage, just to name a few.

Their argument is that if it works in Wallowa County, it can work anywhere. That’s because these guys farm in a cold, high climate with a very limited growing season. The ground is only frost-free for about six precious weeks of summer.

“Innovation is driven by challenges,” said Nick Sirovatka, an agronomist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Oregon. “Without challenge, it’s too easy to sit back and keep farming the same way. But producers in the Wallowa Valley know they have to try new approaches if they want to remain profitable and sustainable for the long term.”

These farmers were inspired by their NRCS District Conservationist at the time, Nate James. James worked closely with these producers, encouraged them to try different cover crops on their farms and share lessons learned. All of them are using a combination of soil health farming practices, such as cover crops, no-till, crop rotations, and grazing.

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