Saturday, August 7, 2010

Farming 101 - correct version

A lot of people ask what kind of farming my dad does and then look just as confused when I answer, so I thought I would do a little rundown, since this is what I did this summer and it's my blog so I'll talk about farming if I want to. =)

I grew up in the Willamette Valley, Oregon. The Willamette Valley is known as the grass seed capital of the world because most of the farming done there is grass seed, as in the stuff that you plant to create your lawn and the stuff that is planted along the side of the road to keep it from eroding. (What, you thought that grew naturally? Nope!) It is also what is planted on golf courses and on soccer fields (grass seed from the Willamette Valley was used on the soccer fields at the World Cup!). The climate is perfect for grass seed, but makes it hard to grow more "traditional" crops like wheat or corn, although the economy has been bad enough that many mid-valley farmers are trying to grow things like coriander, beet seed and chicory in an effort to make even a tiny profit using only the equipment they already have.

There are lots of different kinds of grass seed - annual, perennial, fescue....and some other ones that I can't remember - and the process of harvesting is a little longer than with wheat, corn, or oats.
unharvested field of fescue

In a good year, when the weather is right, the seed gets ripe around the middle of June. Grass seed has to dry before it can be harvested, so the first step in harvest is to windrow (cut) the grass into rows to dry.

this is the front of a windrower. there are blades underneath that cut the grass off and the auger (round thing in the middle) puts all the cut grass into rows...see the next picture

It lays on the ground for 10 days to 2 weeks until the grass is totally dry.

grass behind the windrower laying in rows to dry

In order to prevent the seeds from falling off, you might have to get up really early, to cut it while the dew is on it. My dad gets up sometimes at 2:30 or 3:00 in the morning.

I did not get up that early.
picture taken when I DID get up, around 6:30 or so

Then you combine (or thrash) it, meaning you use this monstrous machine (a combine) to pick up the rows.

The machine beats (thrashes) the seed off the stalk, keeps the seed and spits out the stalk.
seed going into the bin on the back of the combine

The dry stalks can be baled as hay (some gets sent to Japan to use as feed for cows) or chopped up and used as mulch over the crop for the next year.
Just as a point of information, the green machines are best. Red machines? Are BAD. Green is good, red is bad. That is why red machines sit on the side of the field with their sides open and frantic farmer legs sticking out, while green machines calmy munch their way around the field perfectly fine. I'm just sayin'. (The apparent exception is windrowers.....every company has a weak point, I guess.)
red combine sitting forlornly by the side of the road with frantic farmer legs sticking out....

...and green combine harvesting merrily along, happy as a clam.

After the seed is harvested, it gets cleaned and bagged, and sent off to a larger company that rebags it in those pretty packages you buy at the garden store to plant your lawn with.

On bad years, like the last couple of years, the seed is worth only a few cents a pound, and sometimes the seed sits in a warehouse for a couple of years before it gets sold, while the farmer has to cross his fingers and hope that it might sell for enough money to help him at least break even.

In the Valley, a lot of high school kids learn to drive by going 2.1 miles per hour on these multi-ton machines that can cost as much as $300,000. Boring? Yes, but it has to be done, and it's a good source of income for hundreds of high school students in the Valley. Of course, the equipment companies make sure you know what will happen if you aren't careful...maybe the car companies should consider doing this type of warning as well.
And this is the story of what I did on my summer vacation every summer from the time I was 10 or so until I turned 16. And what I did this summer. It is hard work and I am glad that someone likes to do it, because I would not be a very good farmer.


Pseudo said...

I loved this post and I loved learning about grass seed. I always wanted to live on a farm growing up.

Isn't that valley also home to a lot of wine vineyards?

Rikki said...

hmmmm. This is interesting. I had to "do" hay this year (growing up in the desert, we always just bought the stuff, so what a new experience!) and it was difficult, hot, itchy, hot, boring, and HOT, but it was rewarding - I felt good about it when we were done.

Scott & Sarah said...

WOW, great pics. I always did wonder about the grass farming. Must admit I LOVE the warning label, I think I want one for my classroom. :)

carla said...

Awesome post.

Me said...

AWESOME post! I wish I had thought of doing it myself,...I have seen that confused look many a time when I said I grew up on a grass seed farm. ...and then there was the time that someone thought I was talking about pot! LOL