SILVERTON, Ore. — On rainy days in the past, it wasn’t unusual for topsoil to wash down a 50-acre Christmas tree farm at Drakes Crossing Nursery and settle in a landing area, bogging down harvest and peeling away the lifeblood of the farm.
Two years ago, however, that changed after nursery manager Jan Hupp heard from a neighbor about a landowner assistance program operated by Marion Soil and Water Conservation District.
“My neighbor said, ‘You ought to talk to these guys,’” Hupp said.
Flash forward to today, and a healthy stand of ryegrass holds soil in place along a humpback ridge that cuts the field in half, and tall fescue strips planted every 25 rows allow crews to drive equipment into the field for harvest, pruning and other activities.
“It’s made a world of difference,” Hupp said. “On some of those rainier, nastier days (during the 2013 Christmas tree harvest), my guys would’ve had to park in the landing area and walk all the way to the center of the field. They can drive out there now.”
Another plus, Hupp said, is he no longer is forced to periodically bring a backhoe onto his landing area, scoop out the dirt that settles on it, and cover it up with another load of gravel.
The project at Drakes Crossing Nursery is one of about 20 or 30 projects the Marion Soil and Water Conservation District is involved in each year, according to Scott Eden, a district conservationist.
The program requires landowners to put up 50 percent of the cost, either through in-kind commitments or through a cash match.
Paperwork in the grant is kept simple, Eden said, and the district typically helps landowners complete the forms.
“I’m a farmer,” Hupp said. “I don’t like paperwork. But it wasn’t that bad.”
Eden said Hupp’s project easily qualified for a grant, given that it met several criteria the district uses to gauge a project’s qualifications, including erosion reduction and surface water protection.
“We assume anytime erosion is getting into a ditch, that it is going to be transported to a surface water stream,” Eden said.
The district caps individual grant awards at $5,000, Eden said, and has an annual budget of $100,000 for its landowner assistance program.
In addition to establishing grass along the humpback ridge of the 50-acre field and planting access rows, the Drakes Crossing project involved building and installing what Hupp calls “mud-flap diverters.”
The diverters consist of 24-inch wide strips of conveyor belt material that Hupp drilled into 2-by-4s and installed in the ground at angles every 25 or 30 yards. The diverters catch soil as it runs down the field and diverts it into holes dug out with a backhoe.
The mud flaps, as Hupp calls them, protrude about six inches out of the ground and are thick enough to divert soil and water into the holes, yet flexible enough to be driven over.
Asked if the project was worth the expense, Hupp said, absolutely.
“It used to be that we had erosion washing out 50 to 75 feet onto our gravel landings,” Hupp said. “And, unless it was a dry day, you couldn’t drive out there because it was so slippery.
“Now we can go out there any time we want to,” Hupp said. “Besides, I’ve got a lot of money wrapped up into that topsoil. It’s my future, and it’s my kids’ future.”
Silverton workshop set
The Marion Soil and Water Conservation District will host a workshop Feb. 11 at the Silverton Grange Hall, 201 N.E. Division St., Silverton, Ore.
The workshop includes presentations on the Silver Creek focus area project and the role of riparian plants in riparian functions, and an update on salmon recovery in the Molalla-Pudding River basins.
In addition, district conservationist Scott Eden will provide a presentation on services available to landowners through the Marion SWCD.
The workshop begins at 9 a.m. and concludes at 3 p.m.
For more information, contact Marion SWCD at 503-391-9927.