Courtesy Don Wilkinson
MIDDLETON, Idaho — Tyson Meeks and his father, Emery, got the idea for Soil Keepers a couple of years ago, while attending a soil health symposium in Ontario, Ore.
The speakers who came from out of town were knowledgeable about the general subject matter, but weren’t familiar with the local challenges, such as dry and alkaline soils and the prevalence of old-fashioned furrow irrigation, Meeks explained.
So Meeks and his father, both of Middleton, decided they’d organize their own forums, highlighting actual practices that have worked for area farmers and ranchers.
“Listening to some of the questions and comments from the audience, my dad picked up that there are a lot of efforts and ideas here in the valley that are more specific to our problems,” Meeks said.
A retired local sheep rancher, Don Wilkinson, helped them organize the first meeting, which they hosted Oct. 13 at Farmers Mutual Telephone Co. in Fruitland. About 25 food producers attended the first meeting, and they’re expecting a crowd of at least 50 when they meet again Nov. 11. Additional meetings will be hosted every few months, featuring presentations by local volunteers on a designated topic. Anyone interested in the meetings may contact Meeks at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meeks, who was among the presenters at the initial meeting, farmed conventionally until about eight years ago, when he decided to begin incorporating no-till farming and cover crops. Initially, his family had a hard time finding guidance, learning by adapting practices designed for the Midwest, and through trial and error.
“When we started looking at these ideas, we were stumped,” Meeks said.
By next season, all of Meeks’ fields will be no-till, and he’s beginning to notice significant improvements in disease and pest pressure and soil water retention.
Deanne Vallad, who farms and ranches in Ontario, Ore., spoke about the practices she’s implemented to cut her production costs in half in a single year, without sacrificing productivity. Vallad has been planting cover crops that have enabled her to build soil organic matter while providing forage for her cattle and biofumigation of pests. Chemicals naturally released from her mixture of forage turnips and radishes, planted late in the season after she harvested triticale, helped her control a gopher problem, for example.
“I want my cows out there grazing more days than I’m feeding them,” said Vallad, who now sells cover crop seed.
Middleton farmer and rancher Levi Gibson addressed the crowd about his use of forage corn to provide winter grazing for his cattle. Gibson direct seeded the corn into stubble after baling a mix of barley and forage peas for his cattle. Gibson likes that his cattle can still access forage corn in heavy snow.
“There’s no reason we can’t be profitable even in bad years if we share ideas and work together,” Gibson said.