Oregon Cover Crop & Forage Farm Tour

By: Woody Woodruff

I recently had the opportunity to attend a gathering of forage and cover crop educators on a tour of farms through the 150 mile long Willamette Valley in Oregon. In the middle of the tour we visited the Oregon State University Seed Lab in Salem. This is where all the grass, clover, and cover crop seed receives its certification tag. This university conducts seed tests for percent of germination, amount of foreign material, pure live seed, and many other tests. One interesting example can be seen in the photo from the seed lab below. Annual rye grass glows in a florescent light, while perennial rye grass does not. Since you can’t have annual and perennial rye grass in the same bag of seed, the fluorescent lighting helps identify unwanted seeds.

Bryan Ostland, who oversees the Oregon Blueberry, Mint, Ryegrass, Clover Seed, Fine Fescue and Tall Fescue Commissions, invited our delegation of Illinois cover crop educators as well as other professionals in cover crops and forage from across the United States. He did an amazing job of organizing the event and keeping us on track. He is on guy that definitely benefits the Oregon farming industry.  The four-day gathering had twenty-three different speakers and we visited seven different farms.  Two of the farms, the Ruddenklua Farm and the Cala Farm hosted us as well as all of their neighbor farmers for a dinner BBQ and a discussion on how their local agriculture compares to Illinois Agriculture. Good farmers are always great innovators and our two host farms were no exception! In fact, the farmers in the Willamette valley grow about 90% of the grass, clover, and cover crops for the entire United States. 

This seed industry has received help over the years from committed professionals like Don Ball from Auburn University and Garry Lacefield from University of Kentucky. Both, as forage researchers have been long term mentors for the farmers in the Willamette Valley. Our very own Illinois cover crop researcher Mike Plumer and Dan Towery of Conservation Solutions, have been similar leaders within the cover crop industry.  Most of our conversations with the farmers and our delegation over the four days were on how we can help each other advance these types of crops to meet the needs of the future. It is good to focus on the fact that no one farmers stand alone, and we are stronger when we work together. Thank you Oregon farmers and Commission for letting Illinois Stewardship Alliance be a part of that togetherness.