The fourth annual spring meeting of the Southern Willamette Valley Bean and Grain Project took place April 11th at Long Tom Grange in Junction City. As with previous spring meetings, farmers came to discuss varieties, planting timing, and other important technical details concerning the growing of beans and grains in the Willamette Valley. However, after four years of determining which crops are more suitable to our climate and soils, the focus is shifting towards processing, storage, marketing and advertising.
In terms of processing, our area has seen some huge strides taken in the last two years. The opening of Greenwillow Grains flour mill in Brownsville represented the first small scale flour mill in operation in many years. In early April of 2011, Camas Country Mill in Junction City has started production. Considering the opening of these mills and the increased accessibility of locally grown grains produced in local mills, along with the fact that over 1000 acres of conventional grass seed is now transitioning to organic beans and grains, the Southern Willamette Valley Bean and Grain Project has much to be proud of in reshaping our local food system.
As is the purpose of these meetings, farmers sat front and center at the table to discuss issues and concerns that only they know best. Harry McCormack opened with a warning about the cool, wet spring we experienced last year. He suggested farmers should consider that this type of spring could quickly become the norm, as was the case in the 70s and 80s. Therefore, the importance of selecting quick maturing varieties becomes even more important.
Farmers then discussed what they intend to plant and when, which as always, is dependent on the ability to work the soil and the much needed break in the rains. The standard soft white and hard red wheat will again feature prominently with an increase in buckwheat, lentils (red, green and brown), corn (as a grain for milling), and more trials of other grains such as triticale, millet, amaranth, and teff to name a few.
Important to note was the decrease in enthusiasm for beans, with larger farms expressing a real concern about the viability of dry-land beans in the Willamette Valley. Both small and large farms will still try some varieties of heirloom beans, which maintain a small but much more secure niche market.
In order to properly assess the needs for processing and infrastructure, farmers first needed to determine what facilities are currently available. Greenwillow Grains Mill in Brownsville has been processing Stalford Seed Farms’ flour for almost a year now. A2R and Hunton Farms have recently converted their grass seed equipment to clean certified organic seed. Both offer custom cleaning services. Camas Country Mill (a joint venture between Hunton Farms and Hummingbird Wholesale) recently opened and is processing flour. They are open to doing custom processing jobs – with an absolute requirement of clean seed – however have yet to work out their exact cost structure. Camas Country Mill also has a 1950s de-huller that they are figuring out. A test run with hulless oats proved that the machine does work, although much work is needed to garner the level of efficiency necessary.
Willamette Seed and Grain (a new collaboration between Stalford Seed Farms, A2R Farm, and Sunbow Farm) has an oat roller that can process a pallet of oats in 40 minutes. Open Oak Farm has a 1920s seed cleaner that is capable of cleaning small batches of seed (100 lbs.), something that may be useful for smaller growers. It is meant more for their own use, however they are open to working with other growers. In the future they hope to have edible beans and grains seed cleaning equipment suitable for seed crops. Open Oak Farm also has a bigger seed cleaner that is in the process of being rewired and repaired, but use of this cleaner is still a few years out. As is the case with all farmers cleaning their own seed, acquiring appropriate screens for beans and grains is proving to be a very difficult and time consuming process.
Storage is also becoming a greater and more urgent problem as increasing in processing infrastructure advances. As Clint Lindsey of A2R pointed out, “rodent-proof storage is still the cog in the whole deal – we need better storage.” There just so happened to be a representative from SnoTemp, an Albany based cold-storage facility, at the meeting who was there to offer SnoTemp’s services to local farmers. They offer both freezer storage as well as cold, dry storage (35°F and 10% humidity) in both Albany and Eugene. In Eugene they have a 175,000 ft2 freezer space and 16,000 ft2 cooler. In Albany, they have a 375,000 ft2 freezer and 12,000 ft2 cooler. They already store a variety of beans and grains for Eugene, Springfield and Albany producers. One client freezes their peas to kill any weevils and then tempers them in the coolers. Open Oak Farm mentioned that they use metal barrels with locking lids for storing their grains and they have worked well for them on their smaller scale. Hummingbird Wholesale is in the process of setting up a new warehouse and is open to discussions with interested farmers – they are looking at charging $7-10 per pallet per month.
One intriguing point that came up was the potential for local, organic animal feed. Many of the products found in animal feed (flax, pea, triticale) can be grown in the Willamette Valley and the question was asked, could we use these crops to produce animal feed? Austrian winter pea is one variety that could be successfully grown as a fodder crop. Union Point, an animal feed mill just south of Brownsville, offers USDA Organic custom animal feed and could be a potential venue for interested farmers. Otherwise, if farmers could work with storage facilities already available, such as SnoTemp, they could grow these crops, throw them in storage and process into animal feed when necessary. With the large number of livestock operations up and down the Willamette Valley, this could become an increasingly relevant idea.