This decision was not a simple one. It required lots of time, energy and money, before we felt the investment would even be a practical possibility for us. Looking at organics from the outside, it sounds like an easy task; just stop using "man-made" chemicals and use only natural ones. But that's were the glitch can be.
Nationwide, food has kept it's relatively low cost due, in part, to the ability of the farmer to grow larger amounts of crops with less labor involved. Much of this has to do with the changes in chemicals. The ability to apply fertilizers in the exact amount you need as you need it. Being able to combat pests, diseases or invading weeds using specifically designed pesticides. These kinds of things have simplified the farmers’ life and have been our tools for many years now.
To grow organically requires some changes in these practices. Many might look at it as a change back to the past way of doing things. In some areas of organics, such as weed control, some of the practices used today could have been seen on farms through-out history. Anyone who has a vegetable or flower garden knows just how much effort it takes to control weeds if you don't use any of the normal weed-killing chemicals available on the market. The larger the garden, the harder it is to stay ahead of the weeds.
What does all this talk of controlling weeds have to do with the price of tea in China, you may ask? Good question. Controlling weeds organically requires much more physical labor. More labor means more man-hours. More man-hours means more cost to grow that product which means higher prices for that product. Weeds not only take away nutrients from the plants we want to grow, but also are a breeding ground for pests and disease.
Weeds are only one part of the equation. Keeping our plants healthy and producing well is a major deciding point for us. Switching from "man-made" or conventional chemicals to ones that are considered more natural isn't something we could just “jump” in to. We had to make sure its going to work for us.
We have worked hard with many knowledgeable people in the areas of composts, compost teas, fish fertilizers and other natural forms of soil amendments. We started by using them on our existing conventional blueberry fields to see how the plants and soil responded. Many did well. We found that these natural forms of fertilizers appear to be helpful for not only our plants but the soil as well. In our conventional blueberry fields we continue to use them along with more conventional chemicals as part of our on-going plant health programs.
Testing, that's the name of the game. Testing the soil for available organic matter and microbial activity. Testing our plants for growth, productivity, and nutrient availability. Testing for harmful diseases, microbes and insects. Always testing that what we're applying is helping and not hurting our plants.
Sustainable Agriculture is what we're moving towards. We don't know if the organic plantings will be profitable for us… yet. With blueberries, it's several years before you see a crop, a crop large enough to be able to make comparisons and decisions on. So we're just feeling our way along, hopeful that organics will be good for us.
If the organic fields we currently are testing with don't work out for us, then we'll be forced to move them towards a more conventional form of farming. Farmers in general are a pretty practically minded group, but, we're usually optimistic, too. Almost anyone who knows a farmer has heard them say, "there's always next year", and usually more than once. We've already learned how to use some of the pluses we've found from the more sustainable forms of farming. We hope to find more.
We currently have approxitmatley 24 acres of blueberries that have only seen organically approved practices used on them. It takes a field 3 years of only organic practices to become Organic Certified and 3 years for blueberries to start producing any kind of harvestable amounts. So that works out pretty well for us.
But we also have our original 80 acres of blueberries in various stages of sustainable agriculture practices. This means we're slowly dropping the amounts of conventional chemicals used on them by increasing the use of composts and natural applications we use on these fields. We're still testing what combinations work the best for us.
We also have 14 acres of our Hazelnuts that are being tested to see how they respond to these different forms of farming. Depending on how these trees respond, we have another 500 acres or so, that could be changed over.
The last several blueberry harvest seasons we have used a falconer and his falcons to patrol our fields and help keep pests and unwanted birds out of the area. This has helped to limit our losses of harvested product, without introducing more chemicals or the use of shotguns in our fields. Any one who has small fruit trees or bushes knows just how hard it is to keep any of that fruit for yourself. A lot of the time, it doesn't even get a chance to get ripe. Well, multiply that by thousands and you can see the issues we face with bird damage. At times in the past, we estimate we would loose 10 percent or more of our crop to bird damage!
We have been working on restoring the creek that runs through our main farm. It had become choked with a tangled mess of blackberry bushes that stretched across it from one side to the other and running almost its entire length. And, choked was the right word. We found that nothing but the largest of trees survived the bushes. Not even grass was growing in most places, just bare dirt. We removed the bushes and then replanted native trees and grasses (the blackberries are not native to Oregon, but they've taken over). We use organic approved practices for the creek restoration.
We've been building and placing Raptor Perches and Barn Owl Nesting Boxes around our property to attracted local predatory birds to help control and scare away pests that damage our crops. We see these as options to the normally used baits, traps and chemical poisons. Over the last few years, we've noticed many more hawks making use of the perches and find that to be an incouraging sight.
We worked with different compost tea formulas for several years, and through trial-and-error and test analysis, we have found what seems to be a good mixture for us. We now brew and apply our own compost tea (liquefying and aerating compost for maximum application potential).
Each of these projects taken alone are not large steps, but each one takes us farther along the path of were we want to go. To quote our company mission statement:
The mission of Gingerich Farms Products is to provide high quality products and services for our customers, thereby providing a stable work environment for employee growth, development and financial security. We strive to better our community and environment and treat everyone with fairness, integrity and honesty without sacrificing our commitment to our customers and employees.
This is not something that someone just wrote for us. This is something that all of us at the farm got together and came up with. It reflects how we look at each day. It is what motivates us to try new ideas or different things. We know that we have a ways to go and some of these steps might prove ineffective, but we see the positive results outweighing possible failures.
Gingerich Farms has grown many things over the past years, but for the last 25 years Hazelnuts, Grass Seed and Blueberries have been our mainstay.
Organics & Sustainability
When one thinks of organically grown, one might form a mental picture of a small farm with the farmer spreading home-made compost with a bucket or a wheel-barrow. In some cases, that picture could be right. But, like everything else, farming and organics have had to keep instep with the 21st Century.
Organics are no longer just the realm of the smaller eco-minded farmer; larger farms are also taking notice. The demand for organic or substainable farm products has grown over the last several years. We have watched this trend and after several requests from our customers if we could offer these kinds of products, we have decided to try our hand at it.