With all the rain we've been getting I know it's hard to think back to those drier times this year, but for Oregon we've had some unusual weather. A drier than normal spring and late fall rains that didn't start until November have had a significant impact on grass seed farming and shepherding here in the Willamette Valley.
In the last post I filled you all in on a bit more about the grass seed industry. What we grow, why we grow it and what its used for. Now on to how this years weather (we'll save the issue of tariffs for a whole other day and some cocktails) has impacted grass. Let me be clear, I am not a grass seed farmer, my husband is, his family is, and we are surrounded by them. I am new to the agriculrture world, a part of the team and I know just enough about grass seed growing to be dangerous, but I have consulted my experts. Here is what I can tell you from my perspetive, my pasture never grew. This is the one of the two times of year we flourish in fresh grass. The pasture that usually turns brown during the summer, turns a luscious green once the fall rains start. The grass grows again and the pastures generally have several inches going into the winter. This is the time of year that I would generally only have to hay the sheep and alpacas as a treat vs. for sustenance. So even with my small flock we have been effected and are having to put more money out to keep the animals fed.
Now multiply that exponentially for commercial shepherds (and other livestock growers). The grass didn't grow which means there is not the same amount of feed for the sheep. In turn this means there are less sheep because having to feed large flocks of sheep hay thru the entire winter is a huge financial burden. For those that keep breeding ewes and their lambs, there is a scramble to find fresh grass to put them on, for this is the time of year that grass seed farmers make their fields available for grazing sheep. But as you may now be able to figure out, the grass seed fields didn't not grow as they normally should, so they are not readily available for sheep.
So now to the grass seed farms. After summer harvest, annual fields are turned and replanted for next years harvest. Grass needs rain, sun and mild temperatures to grow. Generally in Oregon the rain starts in September and voila, grass starts to grow. But not this year. We waited, and waited, and while we all personally enjoyed the sunny mild weather, those freshly planted grass seeds were less than thrilled.
Luckily the rains did came, but there were also some freezing temperatures mingled into the mix. So what that means is that while grass sprouts finally started to come up with the rains, the freezing temperatures slowed growth way down. It's just like when you walk outside into that unexpected cold and then stop and shiver, then trudge on. The grass is growing, but at a significantly slower pace. Luckily we have had a lot of mild temperatures which has allowed for some extra growth time.
So what happens if the grass doesn't grow tall enough? A single planted grass seed sprouts out of the ground into a single blade. This single blade then starts to tiller as it grows, meaning other blades start to grow out of that one blade. In a dry year such as this, the grass was growing at a much slower rate and in turn tillering at a much slower rate. A single blade becomes much more susceptible to damage from birds and insects. A great example is slugs. If the grass does not grow at a steady pace it allows slugs to climb up those short blades and chomp. If they chomp enough, no more grass blade which of course means no growth and no seed. The longer the blades and the more tillering, the hardier the grass is and the less damage that can be caused.
The moral of the story is, we need rain in Oregon and ideally the farmers of this region need it to come at its normal times. So next time we all complain about the rain, just think, "well hey, at least the crops are growing!!!"
Well that's enough about grass seed farming for today! Be back soon and Happy New Year!!!
Why Grass Seed?
Fridays at the Mill are "Fiber Fridays" which means fiber folks wander in and out with their projects to sit and socialize. If you walk in on a Friday ready to sit, I'll join you!
This past Friday I was talking about what the lack of rain/late rains mean to the farmers and shepherds around here. As you can imagine, a lack of rain in a farming community has ripple effects. Those in the shop thought it was really interesting and that I should address it in the blog. Then I realized that a lot of people don't really understand what is grown in this part of the state or why. So I thought I'd start there.
Grass seed is the main crop farmed here in Linn County and became an established commodity in this area in the 1950s. In fact if you drive Interstate 5 you will see signs proclaiming this is the Grass Seed Capital of the World. There's a lot of grass around here! The number one reason we grow grass for seed here is rain. Good old fashioned Pacific Northwest rain. You need a lot of rain to grow grass. In addition, the climate is also ideal for grass growth given our mild winters, a smidge of freezing temperatures and nice termperate wet springs.
So what happens to the grass seed? Many of the grasses grow to heights of 4-5 feet, depending on the variety making May one of the most beautiful times to visit this area. The grass is generally cut in late June and left to lie on the ground and dry out in the early weeks of the summer sun. Harvest truly begins in July as the seed is collected off the ground. It is then sent for cleaning and generally goes one of two routes. Some of it is indeed the seed that we buy to plant our lawns, for golf courses and even sports fields. The majority of the seed serves an even larger purpose which is to seed for pastures and to grow feed for livestock. Think of all the cattle, sheep and other livestock. What are they eating? A lot of grass! And the grass has to keep growing all over the world to keep these critters fed.
So there you have it. A short and sweet lesson on farming grass seed! I'll be back soon to let you know about what happens in a year such as this when not only the spring was drier than normal, but our fall rains came about 2 months late. In the meantime, enjoy some photos of some of the most amazing green fields you will ever see.
kim, where have you been...
The title of this post is exactly what our blog host asked when I logged in! And holy cow, I didn't realize it had been since December 28th of last year. Wow! Well truth be told I've been thinking the last two months about how much I miss blogging. Then Mitch (my husband and best supportive enabler) had been working on some of our web stuff and mentioned that the blog gets a lot of hits. That was the little push I needed to jump back in. So here I sit just after just finishing up a custom client yarn order and closing up the shop for the day.
So where have I been? So much happened last year that hadn't been planned, isn't that life. And I'll be honest a lot of it threw us for a loop. We lost my stepmom (I hate that word btw), Sharon, mid-year 2017 to a car accident. You of course don't know how a loss like that effects your whole life until it happens and she is in my thoughts every single day. Losing Sharon was a loss not only to her family and friends but to her "work family" and many whom she met around the world. As you can tell, we are all still working thru this and likely will be for a long time.
Another big change that happened early this year was we decided it was time to settle down in our own home so with the help of Mitch's parents we purchased a project restoration home and property and that's where you lost me! There was no more time to breathe. I honestly couldn't even imagine a move of this magnitude, much less into a place that needed so much work. We lived in a trailer for a couple months on the new property while Mitch worked tirelessly along with much help from our family to get us in and make the house "livable" before harvest. We managed to get the dogs, cats, sheep, alpaca, and chickens all moved, barely. And then came harvest...
So here we are, post harvest and in a livable home with another 10 years of projects. But we love it so much and the animals have all settled into their new pastures, yards, beds... depending on the animal!
So for this post a few pictures of our project and hopefully forever home. I'll be back very soon, I promise!
I am Kim Biegler, the owner and operator of Ewethful Fiber Farm & Mill, along with my husband Mitch - my steadfast supporter, enabler, grass seed farmer, maintenance guy and all around love of my life! Visit the Mill's website for more about us and well, to shop for fiber of course! ewethfulfiberfarm.com