Tangent farm makes transition to organic wheat
By Lee van der Voo, Sustainable Business Oregon
Sustainable Business Oregon
Stalford Seed Farms in Tangent, Ore., is trading its conventional grass-seed crops for more sustainable —and profitable — agriculture. And owners say their organic wheat is setting a new price standard in the Willamette Valley, where restaurants and bakeries are paying twice the price for locally grown wheat flour, branded as Greenwillow Grains.
Roughly 10,000 acres in size, Stalford Seed Farms helped make Linn County "the grass seed capital of the world" by growing grass seed over the last 50 years, said Gian Mercurio, who heads up planting decisions, crop rotations and administrative research for the farm. But concerns about the amount of pesticide needed to grow the crop caused the farm’s co-owner Harry Stalford to set 200 acres to fallow around the farmhouse.
Mercurio said it was her daughter who first raised concern about pesticides.
"Willow (Coberly) got concerned about the grandchildren, her children, and she was really concerned about having the chemicals so close to the house," said Mercurio.
But after patrons at the First Alternative Co-op in Corvallis pointed to a need for organic, locally grown wheat, co-owners Coberly and Stalford made the decision to put the 200 acres to use.
That first year 100 of hard red wheat seed yielded only 75 pounds. But four years later in 2010, that same 100 pounds of seed yielded 3,000 pounds, proving that it is possible to grow wheat in Tangent’s climate. Stalford Seed Farms is also exploring possibilities for other dry crops that don’t require irrigation, like pinto beans, black beans and garbanzos.
The farm is producing all of those grains in small quantities today. But wheat — red wheat for bread and white wheat for pastry — are its primary organic crops. While much of the farm is still dedicated to conventional growing, about one third has been transitioned to wheat, 300 acres to organic. Organic growing offers an economically sustainable future for the farm as the grass seed market declines, according to Stalford.
Lee van der Voo, lvdvoo*at*gmail.com, is a freelance writer for Sustainable Business Oregon.
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