By Mitch Lies for Growing Oregon magazine
In 2015, when Beth Satterwhite of Even Pull Farm was considering leasing 2 acres from Zach Christensen of Christensen Farms, the two Yamhill County producers talked. And they’ve talked ever since.
Satterwhite says she was initially concerned about farming next to Christensen’s large-scale commercial operation. To be specific, she worried her small-acreage, organic vegetable production would be subject to herbicide drift from adjacent grass seed and wheat crops.
“But we talked through it when we sat down to discuss the lease,” she says. “Zach explained his management practices, and we talked a little bit about what a buffer is for organic certification and our needs, and it has been pretty painless.
She adds, “Zach has been very forgiving of our weeds, and we trust him not to spray our stuff.”
The communication between Christensen Farms and Even Pull Farm provides a glimpse into efforts taken by farmers throughout Oregon to coexist in a state where crop needs often conflict.
Particularly in the Willamette Valley, where high-value broadleaf crops, such as wine grapes and blueberries, grow adjacent to grass seed and grain crops, chances of conflict are considerable.
Communication, according to Satterwhite and Christensen, is one key to fruitful coexistence.
“They always give us a heads up when they are going to spray,” Satterwhite says. “They spray when we are upwind, and all that good stuff. And we’ve never had an issue.”
Christensen, who farms adjacent to several high-value crops, including hazelnuts, wine grapes and silage being produced for an organic dairy, says he takes several steps to avoid damaging crops.
“We’ve gone away from using the more volatile (herbicide) compounds as much as we can,” he says. “We look very closely at climatic factors before we spray, such as which way the wind is blowing and how hot it is going to be the next three days.
He adds, “We monitor all of those mitigating factors that we can use to essentially eliminate the potential for injury.”
Christensen also participates in continuing education courses put on by Oregon State University Extension Service and others.
“We are always learning about the new crop protection products, so we know what we are dealing with,” Christensen says. “When we get into a situation where we are unsure of the risks involved, we make a phone call and ask the neighbor if there is anything he is aware of that we need to be aware of.
“Knowing what you don’t know is sometimes just as important as the things you think you know.”
In the rare instances where issues have arisen, Christensen says the farm works one-on-one with neighbors to resolve the conflicts.
“In our case, we have a really good relationship, and we are able to work with them individually to resolve any problems we’ve had.”