Small-farm questions answered here

John Schmitz/For the Capital Press Oregon State University small farm Extension agent Melissa Fery will be speaking at the Ag Expo about small-scale farming. She is shown here in Corvallis with OSU small farm Extension specialist Garry Stephenson.

Session aims to answer questions about suitable crops, soil, water


For the Capital Press

CORVALLIS, Ore. -- You say you've just inherited a small farm or acquired a few rural acres, and you don't know what to do with it?

Then a visit to the Willamette Valley Ag Expo next week would be a wise move.

For the first time in its nine-year history, the Expo and Oregon State University Extension will present a talk on operating a small farm for wanna-be aggies.

The 1 1/2-hour presentation -- titled "What Can I Do with My Small Farm?" -- draws its name from a booklet published by OSU Extension small farm specialist Garry Stephenson. It covers such topics as how to fit crops to soil types and the importance of irrigation.

The talk, which will be given by OSU Extension small farm specialist Melissa Fery, runs from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 18.

According to Fery, extension agents often get questions like:

* What can I grow on my small farm?

* How do I qualify for farm tax deferral?

* How do I make a living on the farm?

First-time growers and ranchers need specific attributes to undertake an agricultural operation, Fery said. "There's a certain skill set needed."

For example, those who want to market their produce or livestock themselves must feel at ease talking with buyers and consumers.

Another thing to consider for livestock ranchers is who will look after their animals when they go on vacation or become sick.

Also, Fery said, "Researching markets is very important before (new farmers) decide on a particular enterprise, and just really giving thought to how much work it might take for a particular crop."

Fery, who has a master's degree in environmental soil sciences from OSU, said she works with several retirees who have lived on farmland for years, and now that their city jobs have ended, they want to do something with their productive land.

Information that Stephenson and others have put together is online at The site also offers a free small-farm newsletter.

Fery, who covers Benton, Lane and Linn counties, said soil types and the availability of water play a huge role in what people can grow on their small acreage.

"A lot of small acreages that we work with don't have irrigation, so that limits what they can grow," she said. "(But) it does open doors for livestock production."

Location is also important. While many people romanticize about growing grapes and making wine, "You have to have the right location (and) suitable soils," Fery said. Proper orientation of the field to the sun is also important.

Fery said she often gets calls from people wanting to know which low-maintenance, high-value crops they can grow. "I haven't found the answer to that yet. That's not how farming works."

Popular small-farm crops in the Willamette Valley include mixed vegetable production that provides a diversity of crops needed for a farmers' market or a small community-supported agriculture operation.

Tree fruits and nuts also add diversity for small-acreage farmers, Fery said. While labor-intensive, those crops deserve consideration.

In addition to Fery and Stephenson, OSU Extension has small-farm agents in Newport, Aurora, Redmond and Central Point.

Freelance writer John Schmitz is based in Salem, Ore. E-mail:

Willamette Valley Ag Expo

* When: Tuesday-Thursday, Nov. 17-19

* Where: Linn County Fair & Expo Center, Albany, Ore., just east of Interstate 5

* Admission: $4, which includes a $2 discount for the featured lunch

* Parking: Free

* Hours: Tuesday 9 a.m.-6 p.m.,

Wednesday 10 a.m.-9 p.m.,

Thursday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

For more information, see the Willamette Valley Ag Expo special section online at

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