A First Look at the Fields

Shawnde Bausch joined Saddle Butte in November of 2016. Shawnde has had little experience in agriculture and after completing her first field tour wrote the following:

Last week on a rare sunny Spring afternoon, the offices of Saddle Butte Ag and Cala Farms shut down for a field tour. Office staff, warehouse staff and the shop guys all loaded onto a school bus driven by Dave's wife, Lisa. We also had a puppy and a 4 month old. It's a family-friendly company. As I've only been with the company for 6 months, this was my first tour. New to the ag industry, I'm still learning a lot everyday and this felt like a crash course.

One of our first stops was a newly planted vetch field with a small piece of wood in the center marked by a flag. Dave shared his excitement at his recent finding of carabid beetles under that wood. We all gathered around as he talked about the progress of battling slugs and reducing the need for pesticides. By not tilling and using careful crop rotation he's slowly built up the health of this field. He use to treat it 3 times a season to control the slugs. This year he had only treated it once and that was before he knew about the presence of the beetles. With them there, he might not need to treat it at all. We all circled around as he picked up the board and the beetles went scurrying. I believe we counted up to 15! This is a great sign for the soil as it's healthy and alive.

Looking for carabid beetles in a young hairy vetch field.

Looking for carabid beetles in a young hairy vetch field.

This has been a very wet spring and some of the tour was looking at damage to fields due to too much water. Some is in the form of poor drainage or blocked tile lines. Other fields are impacted by flooding of nearby creeks and rivers. Careful water management is critical and with a nearby dam managed by the State of Oregon, the farms aren't always able to predict how the water will flow.

On a trip filled with fields of grasses, I was surprised when our next stop was an empty field. Dave pointed out the variability in the top of the soil – how it’s not flat and slick but rippled with activity. Removing the dirt off a tiny little mound revealed a wormhole. A shovel of dirt confirmed the presence of worms and an alive soil beneath the surface.

We looked at newly planted hazelnut trees and talked about his staggering of plantings. By planting in a diamond pattern he’ll be able to eventually remove the younger, smaller trees to maximize growth and production for the older ones.

We looked at newly planted hazelnut trees and talked about his staggering of plantings. By planting in a diamond pattern he’ll be able to eventually remove the younger, smaller trees to maximize growth and production for the older ones.

One of the most interesting parts to me was seeing some of the brassicas. The bright yellow flowers are so dramatic against the Spring skies. We observed turnips struggling in wet soil, seeing the impact of the tilelines and the variation of growth within the same field. We stopped to see Bayou Kale nearly as tall as I am. I could barely see the rows the stalks were so full. A field of mustard showed clear variation in the plots with the use of different treatments when planting. I’m eager to see how that field grows over the season and if the differences become more pronounced or even out.

From the trip, the thing that struck me the most was Dave’s passion for the soil. At each stop he was examining so many different aspects of each field: appearance, plant growth, insect presence and incorporating the history of the land into his findings. His energy and excitement around having healthy and alive soil is infectious and it reaffirms how happy I am to be here and a part of this industry!