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This issue of the magazine explores beginnings, origins, and early causes, and includes essays by Caitlin Baggott, Colleen Kaleda, Peter Laufer, Melissa Leavitt, Christen McCurdy, Bobbie Willis Soeby, Alex Tizon, Norina Beck, Brian Doyle, and Peter Rock.

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08/05/14 | 1 Comment about: Start

  • 1.

    Bobbie Willis Soeby’s short piece, The Grass is Always Greener, left me with a desire to tell you about another “start” for the grass seed industry, one that has come much more recently.

    In about 1995, the Oregon Ryegrass Seed Growers Commission began investing in research, field studies and industry education about the potential for using annual ryegrass as a “cover crop” in the Midwest, where generations of monoculture corn and soybean harvests have left farmland conditions destitute - massive erosion and runoff problems, lack of organic matter, and a paucity of microorganisms to recondition the soil. The net effect: farm profits became evermore reliant on “inputs” of fertilizer to keep harvest production high. Meanwhile, millions of tons of precious topsoil were being lost to the sky and the water.

    Cover crops are changing that picture and, to a large extent, the growth in cover crop use began here in Oregon, with the same grass seed growers. In 15 years, the idea has grown from zero to now more than 2 million acres of fields covered year round, most of it never touched again by a plow! The ag industry, universities, conservation organizations and even the federal government (NRCS, EPA) are trumpeting this “new” technology…which is actually an old practice, abandoned at the dawn of the John Deere revolution.

    Some Midwest and east coast states now pay incentives for planting cover crops…up to $100/acre in some states. Cover crops may ultimately play a large part in the clean up of the Mississippi and other large rivers, by keeping farm field “nutrients” out of watersheds and killing the Gulf of Mexico.

    A couple of grass seed growers from the Tangent areas: namely Don Wirth and Nick Bowers, were pioneers in promoting annual ryegrass as a cover crop. It wasn’t altruistic entirely; the result of all their work as Commissioners - to make seed more viable through tough Midwest winters, as well as taking countless trips at their own expense to educate farmers at large trade shows - has now paid off handsomely for their businesses. In the process, it has helped to increase the price of annual ryegrass seed. Heretofore, it had been the poor stepchild of perennial ryegrass. Now it has become a star of sorts in a growing menu of cover crop options, which range from grasses to clover and even radishes.

    More on this is found on the annual ryegrass website: http://ryegrasscovercrop.com/

    The point here: cover crops are providing some long overdue healing of our farmlands and farm practices. And, to a large degree, the “start” of that revolutionary effort in sustainability began here in the Willamette Valley, with the lowly annual ryegrass plant.

    Tim Buckley | August 2014 | United States

Oregon Humanities magazine

Oregon Humanities magazine is a triannual publication devoted to exploring important and timely ideas from a variety of perspectives and to stimulating reflection and public conversation. The magazine is distributed for free to more than 12,000 readers in Oregon. Articles and essays from the magazine have been reprinted in several textbooks, the Pushcart Prize anthology, Utne Reader, and Best American Essays, and featured on public radio programs Think Out Loud and This American Life.

    08/09/13 | Be first to comment on: Oregon Humanities magazine