Headwaters Farm is a 60-acre property in the town of Orient that is owned and managed by the EMSWCD. It is the site of the District’s exciting new Headwaters Farm Incubator Program, which seeks to aid the development of new farm businesses by providing affordable access to land and farm resources.
The site also contains roughly 15 acres of area lining the North Fork of Johnson Creek, which has been put into our StreamCare program to conserve and improve soil and water quality. Headwaters Farm will also serve as a site for research and demonstration of conservation agriculture practices and stewardship.
Conservation Agriculture at Headwaters Farm
There are a lot of ways to think about the intersection of conservation and agricultural production. Here at Headwaters Farm, conservation agriculture is viewed as:
An application of modern agricultural technologies to improve production while concurrently protecting and enhancing the land resources on which production depends.¹
The primary tractor for fieldwork at Headwaters Farm is a “crawler,” meaning that instead of tires, this tractor has treads. This allows the weight of the machine to be spread out over a larger service area, reducing soil compaction and soil disturbance. An added benefit to a crawler-style tractor is that it has greater power and efficiency.
While there is a rototiller at Headwaters Farm, one goal is to reduce this type of cultivation in favor of practices which disturb the soil less and don’t create hardpan. The primary cultivation tool currently in use is a disk.
There are a wide range of benefits that come from planting cover crops: weed suppression, improving soil fertility and water retention, reducing erosion, and creating pollinator habitat. Different combinations of fall and summer cover crops are used at Headwaters Farm to achieve specific outcomes. Here are some examples from this year:
- Sudan Grass was used on over 20 acres this summer to help suppress thistle and to add large volumes of organic matter.
- Crimson cover was undersown in seven acres below the Sudan Grass to fix nitrogen and hold soil throughout the winter, after the Sudan Grass was winter-killed.
- Daikon radish and crimson clover were sown together over eight acres to break up the naturally occurring fragipan (hardpan) in a lower area and provide over-winter soil protection.
- Oats, peas, vetch, and bell beans were planted together over 25 acres as a winter cover crop that builds soil by fixing nitrogen and adding large amounts of organic matter.
In addition to using cover crops as a prominent way to build and manage soil fertility, all incubator farmers are required to take soil samples of their plot at the end of each season and work that information into a Nutrient Management Plan. Under the direction of OSU Extension Service or EMSWCD soil fertility experts, farmers develop a plan for ensuring good soil fertility without adding unnecessary amendments or overusing fertilizer that could end up in water ways. The location and timing of fertilizer application also plays a big part of soil fertility in conservation agriculture practices.
Farmers are strongly encouraged to use drip irrigation at Headwaters Farm. In fact, if a farmer purchases their own drip system, then their water is free. If a farmer needs to use overhead irrigation, then there is a charge for that water use. Currently, all incubator farmers at Headwaters use drip irrigation.
Farm and field layout can have a big impact on keeping topsoil in place and ensuring that sediment stays out of waterways. The most vulnerable natural resource at Headwaters Farm is the North Fork of Johnson Creek. To protect water quality, a 200 ft. buffer has been put around the creek, where no agriculture takes place. Instead, this buffer is being restored through EMSWCD’s StreamCare program, which removes invasive species, plants natives, and then maintains the site for years to come.
Weed and Pest Management
In order to encourage healthy soil life, protect pollinator species and other beneficial insects, and to improve economic outcomes, incubator farmers are required to use organic practices at Headwaters Farm. In lieu of pesticides, farmers have a myriad of cultivation tools at their disposal: hand and wheel hoes, a flame weeder, walk behind tillers, and full scale tractor implements. In addition, farmers are encouraged to use biodegradable mulches though bulk purchases of these products.
¹Dumanski, J., R. Peiretti, J. Benetis, D. McGarry, and C. Pieri. 2006. The paradigm of conservation tillage. Proc. World Assoc. Soil and Water Conserv., P1: 58-64.