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Sustainable Production & Systems

Tilth Conference 2019

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Sustainable Production & Systems

Developing a Soil Health Roadmap for Your Diversified Farm

  • April Thatcher, April Joy Farm
  • Soil health and fertility is a critical concern for all sustainable farmers. Although there is a plethora of information on soil health best practices, from a diversified producer’s perspective it can be hard to know where to start.  Producers face big questions when it comes to making informed management decisions and integrating these best practices in a pragmatic way. Many successful farmers create annual crop, financial and marketing plans.  So why not a comprehensive, integrated soil health plan?  In this session, farmer April Thatcher of April Joy Farm will share how, with a grant from the WA State Soil Health Committee, she worked with WSU soil scientists to develop a Soil Health Roadmap (SHR) for her farm. She will explain each section of her Roadmap, discuss the management changes she has implemented as a result of her SHR, highlight the valuable partnerships she has developed to inform her work, and provide information on how interested farmers can create a Soil Health Roadmap for their diversified operation.

On-Farm Aerated Static Pile (ASP) Composting — You Can Do It!

  • Chris Henderson, Small Acres; David Bill, Midnight's Farm
  • Learn about on-farm composting systems using active aeration, the benefits of Aerated Static Pile (ASP) composting, ASP best practices and specific equipment that can be used to build a cost-effective aerated compost system for your farm. Chris Henderson will describe two aerated compost systems that have been in use at his farm, Small Acres, for the past several years. One system is used for large batch composting of local dairy solids to produce high-quality compost for mixed vegetable production, while a second multi-bin system is used to manage on-farm generated organic material. Both systems minimize labor by eliminating the need to turn compost and automating the blower timing and temperature measurements. David Bill will present Midnight’s Farm’s ASP compost operation, generating over 800 yards of finished compost per year from yard debris, animal bedding, offal, biochar and other feed stocks. His Department of Ecology “farm-exempt agricultural compost facility” status allows the farm to legally receive community drop-off of yard debris and sell finished compost.  Composting best practices, lessons learned, and sources for additional resources will be discussed. A list of materials needed to build your own compost system and record pile temperatures will be provided as part of the presentation.

Organic Tree Fruit Management in the Pacific Northwest

  • Griffin Berger, Sauk Farm
  • "Organic" farming is often sold as being much more difficult, less effective and more expensive than conventional farming. Griffin Berger, Operations Manager at Sauk Farm LLC, will explore tactics that reduce inputs while improving tree health, fruit quality and yields. Join Griffin as he shares lessons learned from the successes and failures of running his family farm.

New Advances in Farm Management for Pollinators, Beneficial Insects and Biodiversity / Nuevos avances en el manejo de los polinizadores, insectos beneficiosos y la biodiversidad

  • Eric Lee-Mäder, Northwest Meadowscapes/The Xerces Society
  • Beneficial insects — such as pollinators and insects that prey upon crop pests — are the unsung champions of the agricultural world. In this session, the Xerces Society’s Eric Lee-Mäder will provide an overview of new advances in the theory and practice of supporting these animals on working farms. Specific topics include the latest science, public policy, and business trends that are driving more pollinator conservation on farms, as well as natural pest suppression by beneficial insects, songbirds, and other functional biodiversity. Specific challenges that arise when working in intensively managed farm systems will be discussed. Case studies featuring large-scale habitat projects such as hedgerows, beetle banks, flowering field borders, and cover crops will be highlighted, along with farm and food industry efforts to incorporate pollinator conservation into their business practices.

Wireworm Monitoring and Management in Organic Vegetable Production

  • Brook Brouwer, Washington State University - San Juan County Extension
  • Wireworms, the larval stage of click beetles, can cause substantial damage to a wide range of agronomic and vegetable crops. Two introduced species of wireworm, Agriotes lineatus and A. obscurus, have spread in parts of Washington State, resulting in high levels of damage to vegetable crops. This talk will discuss the general life cycle of wireworms; research on distribution of Agriotes spp. in Washington State; simple monitoring techniques which can help identify if wireworms will be a problem in your fields; and preliminary results of a study to determine if trap cropping and spinosad bait are effective control methods in transplanted lettuce crop.

Fermenting Feed for Pastured Poultry: Does it Make a Difference to Flock Productivity at Farm Scale?

  • Matt Steinman, Foothills Farm; Dr. Louisa Brouwer, Foothills Farm
  • Fermenting feed is popular among backyard poultry producers, and scientific evidence suggests fermentation has nutritional advantages for chickens. But is it worth the extra labor and cost at a commercial scale? New research from Foothills Farm in northwest Washington could help answer that question. Foothills Farm received a Farmer-Rancher Grant from Western SARE to compare the performance of dry, hydrated and fermented feeds in a flock pastured laying hens. For almost a year, the farm crew studied feed intake, water intake, egg production and hen health in experimental flocks alongside the main commercial flock. Results suggest that feeds affected not just hen health and productivity, but their behavior too. The Foothills Farm research project was led by farmer Matt Steinman, with help from technical adviser Dr. Louisa Brouwer. Don't miss the chance to hear about this unique on-farm experiment and learn strategies for fermenting at farm scale.
Renewable Energy on the Farm
  • Mia Devine, Small Acres/Sparks Northwest
  • Have you been thinking about investing in renewable energy to stabilize costs, increase profitability and move towards a more sustainable farming operation? This presentation will provide practical advice on different renewable energy technology options and how to move forward with a project. Topics will include how to evaluate the renewable energy potential of your site, what resources and funding opportunities are available in Washington, pitfalls to avoid, and examples from the field. Advances in renewable energy technologies, combined with reduced system costs and available financial incentive programs, have made renewable energy projects (especially solar energy) more affordable. However, the project development process and significant up-front costs can make it challenging for small farmers to implement a project. The goal of this presentation is to help address those technical and financial barriers and to provide farmers with the information needed to determine what might be feasible for their situation.
Maximize Your Sales with Year-Round Production Using Affordable DIY Infrastructure
  • Lisa Helm, Dayton Urban Grown Cooperative
  • Instead of scaling up in size, increase your number of sales days per year and take advantage of the high demand for local winter produce. Eliot Coleman has been growing year-round in Maine for 40+ years. Washington State is at a similar latitude, but a warmer climate — year-round vegetable production is absolutely possible here! Lisa Helm, originally from WA and a WSU grad, has been growing vegetables year-round in downtown Dayton, Ohio for four seasons now using unheated DIY hoophouses and low tunnels. She will discuss DIY infrastructure, growing techniques, resources and plant varieties collected from over 8 year-round vegetable farms to help you feel confident to start your own winter production.
Protein for the Plant
  • Mericos Rhodes and Anna Brown, Spoon Full Farm; Andrew Ide, Bright Ide Acres; Christina Miller and Matthew Cox, Green Bow Farm; moderated by Nicole Witham, WSU Food Systems Program
  • Every day, voices in the mainstream media tell us that eating meat is burning the Amazon and exacerbating climate change. We know that industrial meat production causes rampant pollution and inefficiency, not to mention brutal lives for animals. And yet the stories so often told and retold miss a crucial nuance: meat grown with traditional methods, good management and a basis in grass pasture is as good for our ecology as industrial meat is bad. Not only are pasture livestock systems necessary for replacing our current toxic industrial meat system, they are also necessary for regenerative agriculture in general. This panel discussion will bring together several pasture-based livestock producers in a discussion about regenerative meat. We'll discuss the anecdotes and numerical data that are showing more and more evidence for the beneficial effects of well-managed livestock. We'll relate stories of swimming upstream in a culture that increasingly equates virtue with veganism. And we'll discuss the challenges and opportunities that we face in running a regenerative small business in the context of our local food system. 
On-Farm Plant Breeding: A Beginner's Guide With Examples
  • Aaron Varadi, Organic Farm School
  • On-farm plant breeding has the potential to play a pivotal role in strengthening regional agricultural resiliency. Crops that are bred by and for farmers could be a crucial factor in helping address some of the challenges of a changing food system. They also offer farmer-breeders a unique edge in improving production and marketing the crops that are important to them. Through independent farmer-led breeding projects, or through collaborations between farmers and research/commercial institutions, farmers have more agency than we might think in determining what varieties are available to us and the future of our farms. While there are myriad and often intimidating complexities to plant breeding, the basics of it are quite accessible - after all, farmers have been doing it for millennia. This beginner-level, how-to presentation will go over the basic ideas behind the reasons for plant breeding, summarize some standard approaches to breeding strategies, and review examples of six breeding projects currently ongoing at the Organic Farm School.
From Ground to Glass: Evaluation of Unique Barley Varieties for Washington Craft Malting, Brewing and Distilling
  • Stephen Bramwell and Layton Ashmore, Washington State University; Mike Peroni, NABC;
  • Washington State University and the Northwest Agriculture Business Center are working with local farmers, brewers and distillers, and public and private partners in the development of a regional grain economy. Research and development work from 2017 through 2019 is focused on evaluating malting barley varieties while creating critical new market opportunities for farmers in Southwest Washington. This work has contributed to a new commercial variety release, investment in local grain storage and research, widespread interest (and purchasing) among regional brewers and distillers, and several hundred acres of new malting barley plantings. Stephen Bramwell (WSU), Mike Peroni (NABC), and Layton Ashmore (WSU Wine Science Center) will offer a series of short lectures on the work that has taken place and provide insight into the synergy between researchers, producers, and economic development that is driving a regional movement toward a vibrant grain economy.
Controlled Environment Agriculture — The Way of the Future
  • Michael Seliga-Soulseed, Cascadia Edible Landscapes
  • Controlled environment agriculture ranges from hoop houses to high tech systems. We will go through a slide-show of the various options from simple to complex and discuss the cost benefits of working these into your farm planning. We will hit on sourcing, how to contract things out, engineering specs and everything you need to know in order to know which to invest in.
Western Washington Hay and Pasture Improvement
  • Brook Brouwer and Stephen Bramwell, Washington State University; Melissa Habenicht, Center for Natural Lands Management; Bruce Gregory, San Juan Island Conservation District
  • Various efforts are underway to better understand and demonstrate methods for improving western Washington pastures and hay land including rotational grazing, no-till seeding, aeration and organic amendment studies in Puget Sound region. This panel will give updates on research projects, preliminary findings and discuss methods for improving forage quality and quantity, assessing soil health and designing grazing systems that also support native species and maximize ecosystem services while building partnerships.
Innovations in Strawberry, Raspberry and Blackberry Production / Innovaciones en la Producción de Fresas, Moras y Moras Negras
  • Javier Zamora, JSM Organic Farms; Nelida Martinez, Pure Nelida Farm
  • Come learn from Javier Zamora and Nelida Martinez about their innovations for planting, production, and harvesting of strawberries, raspberries and blackberries. This session will also cover best practices for irrigation, pest and disease management, and food safety in organic production. 
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