Fresh Growth

Bar Star Farm: No-Till Wheat Farming

January 17, 2022 WSU Students/Allen Druffel Season 2 Episode 11
Bar Star Farm: No-Till Wheat Farming
Fresh Growth
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Fresh Growth
Bar Star Farm: No-Till Wheat Farming
Jan 17, 2022 Season 2 Episode 11
WSU Students/Allen Druffel

 Western SARE completed our second season of Fresh Growth. Thank you for listening! As we are working toward Season 3, we are sharing some special podcasts by Washington State University students. 

In this episode, you'll hear from 5th generation farmer Allen Druffel, Bar Star Farm, as he talks about their use of no-till practices since the 1990s.

Student team:  Kayleigh Brown, Mathew Morse, Mackenzie Cunningham, Martha Lum 

____________

Thanks for listening to Fresh Growth! To learn more about Western SARE and sustainable agriculture, visit our website or find us:

· Instagram

· Facebook

· Twitter

Contact us at wsare@montana.edu

Show Notes Transcript

 Western SARE completed our second season of Fresh Growth. Thank you for listening! As we are working toward Season 3, we are sharing some special podcasts by Washington State University students. 

In this episode, you'll hear from 5th generation farmer Allen Druffel, Bar Star Farm, as he talks about their use of no-till practices since the 1990s.

Student team:  Kayleigh Brown, Mathew Morse, Mackenzie Cunningham, Martha Lum 

____________

Thanks for listening to Fresh Growth! To learn more about Western SARE and sustainable agriculture, visit our website or find us:

· Instagram

· Facebook

· Twitter

Contact us at wsare@montana.edu

Speaker 1:

Hello, and welcome to fresh growth. A podcast by the Western Sarah program that sustainable agriculture research and education just for background Western, Sarah is funded by the us department of agriculture's national Institute of food and agriculture to promote sustainable farming and ranching across the American west through search education and communication efforts. Like this podcast, we are preparing for our third season, which we'll launch on February. First. In the meantime, we are sharing special podcasts produced by students in Washington, state universities, introduction to agricultural and food systems, class, the students interview producers and ag leaders on a variety of topics. We hope you enjoy and learn from their work.

Speaker 2:

My name is McKenzie. I am here with my group members, Martha Kayley, and Matthew. We are all students at Washington state university. And today we're gonna be talking about no-till production practices.

Speaker 3:

Tilling the soil has been a prominent practice in farming for many years. However, recently it's come to our attention and the attention of many farmers and agriculturalists that tilling your soil may be doing more harm than good. Today. We are here with Alan ruffle who can give us some insight on the fact of the matter concerning no till farming Alan, on behalf of our members here, we'd like to extend a warm welcome to you, and thank you for taking the time to meet with us. I'm gonna pass the mic to you, Allen, so you can give us a brief introduction of yourself and what you do. Perfect.

Speaker 4:

Well, thank you. And thank you guys for having me. It's, uh, it's always a pleasure to work with, uh, the universities in our area and, and cuz it's a joint effort to promote soil health and, and conservation practices. So I'm a fifth generation farmer. Uh, we have the opportunity to live in the homestead. We, we homesteaded our farm in 1876 and, and I've been on the same ground ever since our farm has expanded quite a bit, both, uh, in acres and geographically, we we're very diverse. We farm about 50 miles from one end of the farm to the other, uh, in, in significantly different rainfall zones. Uh, dad started with no-till in the mid 1990s. And so we've, we've been at it for about 30 years. He, at that time, you know, they didn't really know what they were doing. And so it was kind of a guessing game and uh, they were, they were leaders in this arena at that time. And so they, they got together with a group of farmers and started buying equipment and trying different things. And then in the early two thousands, about 2002, 2003, uh, we bought our own equipment it and converted our farm to a hundred percent no-till uh, and been doing it since, uh, we thought really thought near early stages no-till was the silver bullet. That was what was going to change our farm. And as we got farther into no-till, there were challenges, uh, and there, there were bright spots, but what we realized that it's only a piece of the puzzle and, and with no-till now we started working on much more diverse crop rotations and per crops and changing our fertility practices and, and looking at the soil biology, not just the soil chemistry and, and as we have kind of progressed, we're, we're starting to get dialed into what is improving our soil and we're starting to see our organic matters rise and be able to reduce our synthetic, uh, fertilizer inputs. And so, you know, this day, it we're pretty proud of where we are, but there is a very long ways to go on our farm.

Speaker 3:

Perfect. Thank you so much, Alan. That's awesome. 30 years of farming, man. I can't imagine that. That's awesome.

Speaker 4:

Well, that's 30 years in. No, till, you know, we've been doing 30

Speaker 3:

Years in. No till

Speaker 4:

Thank you. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. We've been farming on the same property. Uh, 20, 26 will be 150 years.

Speaker 3:

Oh wow. That's awesome. All right. Well, I'd like to start getting into some of our questions that we've got for you today. Our first question for is how does no-till compare to conventional farming practices and what effect does it have on your production outcome?

Speaker 4:

You know, there there's some similarities between conventional farming practices and no-till farming practices. I don't really like the word conventional farming practice. It's only conventionally farmed for about 150 years. If you look at modern American agriculture, you know, since the, the era of the plow, we've really only been at this for about 150 years, which in it's, it's a blink of an eye in, in this scheme of things. And so to call what we're doing or what my dad did at the beginning of his career, conventional, that's a really hard, hard term for me to accept. Uh, and, and, and I'm not sure no-till is the exact answer that we're looking for. You know, we use some of the same equipment, the same big tractors, and, and we're using the, some of the same synthetic inputs, but as far as what we're doing with soil, it's completely different. We, we're not opening that soil up every year. We leave the previous residue on the soil, the armor and, and put the seed into the ground with as minimal disturbance as we can. And, and so we feel that we are, and we don't feel, we know that we're rebuilding our soil and, and introducing biological activity in some organic matter into it. A as far as production results, it's been varied. Um, in the beginning when we were learning, essentially just, you know, how to use the equipment there, there were some struggles and, and we saw a dip in our production, but we're back, uh, producing as much or more than a, a conventional farming system where we also have to look at as more than just a, uh, a gross production. We, we really look at a net, you know, maybe there's some times that we don't produce quite as much as that overall yield as, as a, a super high input synthetic input neighbor, but our return is better monetarily because our, our decrease in inputs and as well as, uh, our increase in, in soil health, that value is really hard to quantify, but it's there and it's important. And, and as we move forward, looking at that value as long as, as well as sequestering carbon, those two values are gonna have to be really looked at as part of the, the no till sustainable production model.

Speaker 3:

Thank you. Um, and I think that that was a perfect segue into our next question. When you say that you leave soil residues and, uh, you're reintroducing organic matter into your soil, does that ever cause, um, in your experience, uh, challenges in no-till farming?

Speaker 4:

Yeah, that's a, that's a good question. And, and absolutely it does every, you know, benefit from the residue comes with a, a challenge we've ran into, you know, challenges, as simple as the seed has a hard time growing through the residue that there just gets to be so much of it, uh, to, to more complex challenges where there's, uh, chemical holdovers tied up in that residue that don't break down the same way as if they were buried with a conventional tillage system. Uh, and so it's, it's been a learning curve and, and we, we have seen it, but the, the benefits long term far outweigh the short term challenges. And, and we're willing to work through a lot of these issues to get where we want to be, which is return into soil to what it, what it once was. Uh, and I'm not sure I'll get there in my lifetime, but I, I sure hope that I have a good start. That

Speaker 3:

Is a really good piece of information for, um, people who may listen to this, because it gives them a little bit more of an insight on, um, how even the better alternatives to farming practices can still cause challenges in your production. Would you, would you agree with that statement?

Speaker 4:

Absolutely. You know, there's always gonna be challenges with any production system and, uh, there's gonna be highs and lows in each one. So, yeah, absolutely.

Speaker 3:

All right. And our last question that we had here since we're getting a little bit closer to our time is can no-till farming be applied on a smaller scale and say a home garden for those who aren't involved in bigger productions? And if so, how, how can small homesteaders incorporate that into their individual practices?

Speaker 4:

Yeah. You know, obvious say I we're, I'm pretty focused on large scale, uh, agriculture, but I, I don't see any reason why it couldn't carry over into small scale. What, to me, the exciting part about small scale is the ability to amend the soil in a way to really accelerate the benefit it's of, of a zero tillage environment. For those plants. We, we work with really tight margins on really, really big acres. And so when we change something and, and have to spend 10,$20 an acre, that's a lot of money for us. Uh, but on a small scale, if you, you spend, you know, 50 an acre, which, uh, most small scales, not even gonna be an acre on, on the home garden, it's gonna be, you know, an eighth of an acre and you can amend it with things like the, you know, WSU has a wonderful organic compost that, that we've even put in our fields. Uh, but again, it, it priced us out, but where you could amend with that, uh, it would be fantastic. And, and to be able to watch the biology come to life in that accelerated manner and, and, and start producing healthier crops, and it would be so exciting. And then you're gonna see those benefits more directly in your food, because typically you're gonna be growing fresh vegetables and things that are eaten directly at, outta your garden. We're going into some markets that, that aren't direct to consumer, but they are field to consumer. So we'll go into a mill with our grain or, uh, into a processing plant with our pulse crops and, and have hummus and flour and things like that. But in that home garden where you can, uh, grow your soil and, and have this absolutely healthy microbiology and, and micro sphere under the soil to grow those healthy crops and then put'em on your plate at night, that would be the ultimate reward. And no till will absolutely work. Uh, you just, you know, they'll, they'll be a little tillage to get your, your seed in the ground, poke a little hole seed in, but I, I don't see any reason why that wouldn't work.

Speaker 3:

I think that that's really important for people to know, too, that even on the smaller scale at home, you can, you can still reach the benefits that bigger productions use or maintain with their more sustainable approaches to their production. And I think that people can hear this and really be inspired to take action on their own land, so that across many geographical areas, more people are reaching those same results and overall achieving those goals of a sustainable production in their home gardens.

Speaker 4:

Absolutely. You know, it doesn't take one person to change the world. It takes us all doing a little bit and, and the home gardens are gonna be an amazing start for that. Uh, and, and as us, as, as large scale producers, we need to rise to the challenge and lead that movement change is gonna take everybody. And it's important for me on my farm to, to help drive that

Speaker 3:

I'd like to extend the thank you again for meeting with us today and giving us all of us valuable information about no till and sustainable approaches to gardening and farming. And I really admire your family for how long that they have been using your guys' land for production. That's really incredible. And you guys, it sounds like you guys are doing really incredible things there. So thank you again, Alan, for meeting with us, and we appreciate the valuable insight, and we hope that you have a wonderful rest of your day.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for listening to fresh growth. We hope you enjoyed this episode for more information on westerner grounds and our learning resources visit westerner.org.