Foster Creek, South Douglas Conservation Districts hold meeting, mark anniversary

By Olivia Schilling
Foster Creek Conservation District

Tom Poole gives a talk on improved soil health with microbes. (Provided photo/Olivia Schilling)

Foster Creek Conservation District (FCCD) hosted the FCCD and South Douglas Conservation District (SDCD) annual meeting this year on Feb. 13 at the NCW Fairgrounds in Waterville.

The morning started off with coffee and sweet treats provided by Ag Enterprise Supply, Inc., a welcome by FCCD District Manager Amanda Ward, and updates from FCCD and SDCD staff. Shirley McLean gave the Douglas County Crop Improvement report and elections were held.

Michel Ruud, Farm Service Agency county executive director, then provided FSA program updates, specifically about Conservation Reserve Program contracts, crop commodity loans and FSA’s new option to opt-in on text message alerts. Jose Limon then talked about FSA loan eligibility for farmers just starting out and options for retiring farmers. Natural Resources Conservation Service Range Specialist Scott Scroggie discussed NRCS’s transition to the planning first method and Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI) funding for three programs: rest deferred rotation grazing plans, crop-to-range transition and crop-to-non-range conversion.

The growers panel, from left, are Jesse Brunner, Seth Walker, Douglas Poole, Dan Cavadini and Mike Nester. (Provided photo/Elizabeth Hanwacker)

Tom Poole gave the first full presentation of the day called “Liven Up Chem-Fallow with Microbes: Improved Soil Health Leads to Less Disease and Pathogens.” Poole explained the use of the “compost tea” he developed to use in his direct seed operation to help increase microbes in the soil. He stressed the need for both bacteria and fungi for healthy soil and the use of monitoring to assess the efficacy of the application methods. He also discussed the trifecta of crop, microbes and time. Afterward, Douglas Poole gave a summary of this year’s Pacific Northwest Direct Seed Association Cropping Systems Conference in Kennewick and the No-Till on the Plains Conference in Wichita, Kan.

The morning’s activities wrapped up with a grower panel discussion on soil health, featuring producers Jesse Brunner, Seth Walker, Douglas Poole and Dan Cavadini, as well as Mike Nester with Ag Enterprise Supply, Inc.

Dan Cavadini commented on the benefits of direct seed, saying that “you don’t see dust storms around the area anymore.” Seth Walker recommended assessing failures and learning lessons from them, stating “sometimes your failure can be your greatest victory.” Douglas Poole emphasized that no-till is just a piece of the puzzle, and should be used alongside practices such as crop diversity and cover crops. Poole also said the transition process to no-till can be rough, and producers should accept that it is a process — go gradually and always keep learning and experimenting. Jesse Brunner believes that no-till practices will work anywhere, but it won’t look the same from farm-to-farm adding, “No-till is not a recipe, it’s a mindset.” From the audience, Wade Troutman added, “Everything is local. Every piece of dirt is very local — what’s important is to know your land. No-till has given me an opportunity to understand my ground further.” Addressing chemical use, Brunner said the best thing to do is to use less (and be) smarter. Douglas Poole likened the effect of chemicals on the soil to a hangover. “The microbes bounce back, but we could avoid that altogether,” he said. Poole would like to get the soil on his operation to a point where it is healthy enough to defend itself, which could eventually lead to a significant decrease of chemical inputs.

Lunch of smoked brisket was provided by Modern Ag Products LLC of Pasco, with side dishes and sweet pies from Jack’s Resort.

Following lunch, FCCD staff awarded their board members with gift baskets to celebrate FCCD’s 75th anniversary. Wade Troutman, FCCD board member of 36 years, spoke to commemorate this milestone anniversary. FCCD Board Chair John McLean added, “We, as a board, currently have the same passion and dedication to our resources that they did when this started 75 years ago. We want to protect and enhance our resources: air, water, soil and people.”

The afternoon concluded with presentations from Modern Ag Products LLC with “Soil Biology: An Integral Component of Soil Health,” and the Wilbur-Ellis Company with “What Surfactants Make Herbicides Work Better for Weed Control?”

Overall, the joint annual meeting was attended by about 55 people and was well received.

Three pesticide credits were available for participants requiring them.

Shirley McLean complemented FCCD District Manager Amanda Ward on the interesting line-up of speakers, saying “I am impressed.”

Luke Lillquist, a conventional wheat farmer, saw lots of neighbors and thought the discussions were good. “It was good to hear ideas on the other side of the fence. I’m happy I came,” Lillquist said.

NRCS employee Scott Scroggie said, “It was good! Great food.”

 

Olivia Schilling is a natural resource specialist and education and outreach coordinator with the Foster Creek Conservation District.