When it comes to controlling pests or improving soil, Threemile Canyon Farms uses the most sustainable, effective techniques, based on experience and research. That means nature-based farming solutions often play as important a role in our operations as the latest advances in high-tech equipment.
Growing mustard to protect potatoes
Here's just one example: Standard industry practice is to apply Metham Sodium, a chemical agent, to control verticillium wilt, the main disease that attacks potatoes.
On our organic fields, we turned to a natural alternative: the mustard plant. Mustard plants contain glucosinolates which, when released in the soil, produce an effect similar to Metham Sodium. Potato fields are planted with mustard and timed to bloom in September. The plants can then be chopped and tilled into the soil in fall for optimum protection.
This natural method not only inhibits verticillium, but it also gives tilth and texture to the soil, a benefit that doesn't occur with chemical fumigants.
Planting in pairs and strip tilling
We grow triticale, a wheat-like plant that prevents soil erosion over the winter. We harvest it green in the spring as forage for our dairy cows. Immediately after harvest, we strip till our corn through the existing stubble. The strip tilling process saves time in planting the corn, uses less fuel and increases yields.
Our farm uses advanced Global Positioning System (GPS) technology as part of our strip tilling practices. Because the strip tillage and the spring planting process are synchronized with the GPS, the areas between the tillage strips remain undisturbed. This helps decrease erosion of top soil as well as wind damage to our corn crop.
We also plant oats with alfalfa. The oats grow quickly and help protect the slower growing alfalfa from wind erosion. We then cut the oats to feed our dairy herd. After harvest, the oat hay eventually freezes but the alfalfa comes back strong for three years.
We didn't invent these ideas, but we practice them on a larger scale than other farms, helping to create new understanding of their value.
Farmers usually grow potatoes in a field on a one-in-three-years cycle, rotating potatoes with other crops that help replenish the soil. We've extended that rotation schedule to one in four years, bringing better crop quality and fewer problems with disease.
Our dairy provides an abundant supply of nutrient-rich manure, which we separate and dilute. The liquid fertilizer is then injected into our precision irrigation system for application to our growing crops on a circle by circle basis. Use of this natural fertilizer has allowed us to dramatically reduce our use of crop protectants on all crops and increase production of our certified organic crops. Our farm is an acknowledged leader in "green-water" application.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
We follow an Integrated Pest Management strategy to manage pests and weeds, often using living organisms to control plant pests or disease. When we use crop protectants, we document all applications and provide those records to state regulators. All applications are carried out in a manner that reduces the potential adverse impacts to humans, wildlife and the environment.
Conservation areas and buffers
We put more than one-fourth of our farm into a wildlife conservation area. That area - and the 250-foot buffers that surround it - protects sensitive species, beneficial predator animals and insects, and reduces the spread of crop-specific weeds and pests.
Seed farms and traceability
Because healthy plants begin with healthy seeds, we raise all our own seed potatoes on our 700-acre Grand Ronde Seed Farm in La Grande, Oregon. Healthy plants are less susceptible to plant diseases and pests.
We know that crop traceability is also an important part of sustainable farming. Our employees enter detailed crop information for every field into our central computer. This database provides an extra measure of accountability on all our crops.