Visiting Fine Pastures

Farmland LP acquires conventional farmland and converts it to organic farmland.  An important step in that process is the establishment of pasture.   We restore soil fertility and tilth by placing ground into a combination of sod forming grasses, nitrogen fixing legumes, and deeply rooted forbs.  Once soil is in great shape and we have organic certification, areas may rotate into other types of production, such as seed crops and vegetables.  Pasture production also gives us early and reliable cash flow before organic certification.

I wanted to get some perspective on what is possible with pasture in the Willamette Valley by visiting farms that are doing it right.  Relatively few places around here manage land as diverse, organic, pasture, but those that do have fantastic results and are willing to talk (often for hours) about how they do it.

My first visit was to Cattail Creek Lamb west of Junction City, where John Neumeister has been watching pasture and animals grow for over 20 years.  He told us about the importance of intense rotational grazing, micronutrient amendments, and success with over-sowing red clover into established sod during the winter.  He was also doing something similar to our management plan—leasing a field to a vegetable producer and getting great results.

Organic dairy farmers probably have the greatest experience of quality pasture management.  I believe this comes from the fact that they get immediate feedback, via milk production, of the quality of the forage.  By contrast, it is hard to measure weight gain on meat animals twice daily.  About 20 miles north of Corvallis is Double J Jersey farm, owned and operated by Jon and Julianne Bansen, who produce in partnership with Organic Valley Coop.

Similar to my conversation with John Neumeister, Jon Bansen related many details of his operation, including the specific mix of species, land preparation methods, irrigation frequency, rotation patterns and the process of increasing land fertility.  While I won’t go into those details here, a pair of pictures tells the story.  I took these pictures from the same point on a road.  The first looks south to a farm that was formerly a conventionally managed dairy and now raises stocker cattle.

This next picture is north of the road and shows what 19 years of quality organic management does to the land.

What is so remarkable about these images is how well they demonstrate the importance of management practices.  Each farm is endowed with the same soils and climate, but one failed as a dairy and the other is thriving.  The good news is that these best practices are not secrets.  We can read about them, talk to those applying them, and do it ourselves.