Justin McLeod has been farming near Nez Perce, Idaho, for about a dozen years.
“This was a century farm that’s been in our family a long time, but when I came back to the farm my dad and my uncle were farming it together,” he said.
“I started buying out my uncle’s share, and my dad and I have been farming for about 10 years. Last year my dad retired, so now it’s just myself and my wife, Polley. We also own a title company, and she is the president of that company.”
McLeod does most of the farming himself, with help from two part-time employees who work for him through most of the year.
Currently the main seed crops on the farm are fall wheat and bluegrass. Rotational crops have included lentils, peas, garbanzo beans and canola. The legumes add fertility to the soil between seed crops.
“We used to grow quite a bit of canola but the price has not been very good lately; we haven’t grown canola for the past two years,” McLeod said.
The grass seed he grows is purchased by Jacklin Seed, a subsidiary of Simplot. This seed company supplies a full line of turf grass varieties for lawns and golf courses. Markets for Kentucky bluegrass seed have been very good lately, with the growth in the housing industry and overseas markets.
“I think the market will be good again this year, but there are some indications that it will soften after that,” he said.
The grass seed is harvested a little differently than cutting the fields for hay or grain. “We swath and then combine it. At first we used our regular combines and just put pick-up headers on them to pick up the rows of grass, and set the combines a little differently. The main difference is that we don’t use our regular semi-trucks. Instead we use semi vans that have been converted for hauling seed, with the tops taken off them. We dump into those, for hauling the seed to the cleaner,” McLeod said.
Seed has to be clean and weed-free. It is certified through the Idaho Crop Improvement Association.
McLeod has been growing grass seed his whole farming career, and his father and uncle grew seed for 30 years before that.
“This is all high-end grass seed that goes to golf courses, horse farms — for paddocks that get a lot of wear and tear — and lawns.” These are durable turf varieties that can handle a lot of pressure and not get beat out by heavy use.
McLeod and his wife have three boys ages 7, 9 and 11.
“They are still too young to help much, but they all enjoy riding on the equipment and would like to drive it. They have lots of ambition right now, and don’t mind going out to help pick rock and other chores.”
Family farms in this region just keep growing larger to survive.
“To stay competitive, the reality is to get bigger, but it’s challenging with the price of land,” he said.
One alternative is to diversify as much as possible. Then if the market is poor for one crop it might be better for another.
Along with farming, McLeod is also a county commissioner for Lewis County, and the job takes up a lot of his time.
“It’s not a political aspiration, but we care about where we live and this is one way I can maybe do my part for the county and community.”