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Is It The Running Y Ranch Or Running Y Lake?

March 5th, 2014
A chipping potato field looks like a lake from early February moisture on the Running Y Ranch near Klamath Falls, Oregon.

Lake front property or the entrance to a chipping potato field?

Last fall doesn’t seem very far away. The fields at the Running Y Ranch were busy, full of equipment cutting hay and grain and getting the fields ready to dig potatoes.  Before long bulkers were filling spud trucks, which headed to Malin to store the potatoes for shipping season.  Occasionally, the ground would seem to open up to swallow a truck.  When that happened, you remembered these fields were once part of Klamath Lake.

We were recently reminded of that again.  On February 16th, Tricia called to say the fields were so full of water from much needed rain and snow that you couldn’t see where one field ended and another began.  Not only that, swans, snow geese and Canada geese had flocked to the fields, and in some places there were so many of the white birds it looked like the snow had returned.

By the time we made it to the Running Y Ranch the next day, some of the flooding had subsided and the massive flocks had moved on.  But what was left was still amazing.  If it weren’t for the built up roads that ran along the edges, the fields would have appeared to be one contiguous lake.  With swans and a few Canada geese swimming through the wheat and potato fields of last year, you could almost see how this area was once a seasonal part of Klamath Lake.  And you could also see how these fields became so fertile.

Moments like these remind us how lucky we are to live in the Klamath Basin.  Yes, there’s still a drought and we’re all praying for more snow to fall in the mountains and rain to fill our lakes and reservoirs.  But watching geese swim in these flooded fields and swans pick through the leavings of last year’s grain harvest help give us a moment’s respite of today’s worries and remind us of the power and majesty of Mother Nature.

We hope you enjoy the photos below, and if you’d like to see any of them enlarged, just click on the picture and a gallery will appear.

And let’s all hope for more water!

environmental stewardship, farm, gold dust, Klamath Basin wildlife, Running Y Ranch, sustainable farming, walker brothers, wheat

Quiet Shed, Quiet Fields

June 7th, 2012
A chipping potato field at the Running Y Ranch near Klamath Falls, OR.

Here it is - the last potato field we planted

Last week, two seasons came to an end for us.

On Monday, May 28th, an incredibly long shipping season finally wound down.  Now, instead of a busy, buzzing packing shed, the great expanses of concrete and conveyor belts sit quiet and still in the dark.  Though one of the longest shipping seasons we’ve seen in recent memory, our safety streak continued with a final tally of 130 consecutive days of no injuries. Well done, shed crews!

Then, on Wednesday, May 30th, planting season wrapped up. Even with a sluggish start thanks to Mother Nature (no complaints – we needed the moisture!), potato planting finished in a timely manner.  Our farm crews planted grain and potatoes all over the Basin this year – our range took us from the Running Y down to Lower Klamath Lake, over to the Tulelake and the Tule Lake refuge, and then up to Merrill and Malin.  We covered a lot of ground this year and all are glad it’s over.  Where did it end, you ask?  The last of the chipping potato seed was planted in the rich, black dirt of a field on the Running Y Ranch.  And yes, we’re excited to see how it turns out!

While on the subject of the Running Y Ranch, a little over two weeks ago we took a camera there to snap a few photos of the then current farming projects.  As you can see, we were still in the process of whipping the ranch back into shape.  Along with fields being prepped and drilled for grain, excavators continued to clean up the canals while tired pasture land was being reclaimed for crop ground.

With the end of both shipping and planting seasons, our focus now shifts to the growing season.  In the potato fields, sprinklers will be laid out while in the hay fields our first cuttings of alfalfa will be swathed and bailed.  In other words, though two busy seasons have ended, more work lies ahead of us for the summer.

Now, picture time!  Below we’ve included photos of some of our last potatoes being loaded (though not our last load), our last field that was planted along with shots of farming on the Running Y Ranch from two weeks ago.  And while we love sharing shots of farming, we also are pretty partial to showing the abundance of wildlife seen around our fields.

Enjoy!

 

chipping potatoes, gold dust, Klamath Basin wildlife, potato shipping, Running Y Ranch, walker brothers

The Walking Wetlands: Communication, Cooperation and Water

April 12th, 2011
US Fish and Wildlife Service's Loren Ruport and Ron Cole

Loren Ruport, Private Lands Biologist, and Ron Cole, Refuge Manager of Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Walker Brothers has worked with the US Fish and Wildlife Service on several conservation-minded projects on lands leased on the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge.   While the federal government requires participation in some programs in order to farm the leases (located on the nation’s only wildlife refuge that has farmed cropland on it), there are others that are completely voluntary.  And according to Ron Cole and Loren Ruport, two of the people who create and manage these programs, the voluntary programs seem to be the ones that are benefiting farmers and wildlife the most.

If you ever get the opportunity to talk with Ron or Loren, one thing is evident – they love what they do at the Tule Lake National Refuge.  Ron, Refuge Manager of the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex, sounds committed to finding a balance between providing for the wildlife that call the 39,116 acres home and the farmers who grow crops on the leases.  Loren, Private Lands Biologist, gives you a sense of the excitement he has from working with farmers on various aspects of conservation projects.

Of all the programs farmers can participate in to promote native vegetation growth and wildlife habitat, one stands out from all of them – the Walking Wetlands.  The Walking Wetlands programs falls into what Ron likes to call “Ecologically Superior Agriculture” – the idea that you can find a balance that is beneficial to the environment as well as increase the crops and profits of farmers.  “If it works for the operator,” Ron said, “it works for all.”  Loren added that’s it’s necessary to sell these programs from a business point of view to folks who have to meet a bottom line.  “You got to find what it is these individuals are interested in,” he said, referring to the various crops grown on the leases.

The Walking Wetlands program does just that.  The name comes from the idea of a wetland “walking around the landscape.”  The program allows a farmer to trade a lease or private land to be flooded  for the opportunity to farm land on the refuge.  A dike is built around the traded ground and flooded for at least two years, though it can be longer and dikes can be left for up to 10 years.  As a result, the wetland moves every so often, and the land that has been flooded gives farmers higher yields with fewer inputs.  Even though Ron and Loren get very little feedback about how beneficial the Walking Wetlands has been for farmers, they know it’s working.  “The flooded lease bids are higher, “  Ron said, with a smile.

The program proved its effectiveness from the very beginning.  When the Walking Wetlands was first tested, many recommended Ron try it on Lot 5.  Due to farming and weed suppression, the lease had not had any native plants growing in it for several years and was notorious for having the highest concentration of nematodes on the Refuge.   “We overachieved our first year,” Ron laughed.  Native plants, cattails in particular, came back heavier and thicker than they had intended though they had been effectively beaten back.  It was successful for agriculture as well.  After being a wetland for a couple of years, when the water was drained and tested for farming, they found there were no nematodes in the soil and the nitrogen levels were off the charts.  The farmer who had the lease had yields increase by 25% without the need to fumigate for pests.

According to Loren and Ron, these kinds of yields are par for the course on ground coming out from being a wetland (hence the high bids).  They explained it was like giving the ground a vacation.  After being farmed for years, getting flooded gave the ground a chance to revive itself.  Native plants that were thought to have disappeared from the dirt come back almost immediately.  Without the crops pests thrive in, they either die or move on to where they have a food source, thus  more or less disappearing from the wetland.  With the ground being fallow and flooded, organic material is broken down and returned to the soil, increasing the nutrient load that makes the soil some of the richest farmland in the United States.

While the benefit to farmers is obvious, the success of these fields benefits wildlife and the Walking Wetlands program as well.  Ducks and geese traveling the Pacific Flyway are treated to grain left by farmers after harvest and the created wetlands provide habitat.  The wetlands clean pollutants and buffer the water, making it cleaner for salmon and other downstream fish fed by the Klamath Basin.  And if the farmers are successful, they want to participate in the program, which increases the acres participating in the Walking Wetlands.

Though the Walking Wetlands is successful, its future isn’t guaranteed.  For starters, like Klamath Basin agriculture, consistent water delivery is vital to the program.  “Water is key for the future of the Basin,” Ron said, pointing out that the refuge needs water certainty as much as farmers.  The Tule Lake refuge is at the end of the line for water delivery, right behind farmers and ranchers.  The irony of the situation is the refuge and the wetlands, which in low precipitation years receive no water, could actually clean the water to help the salmon down river which take the highest priority.

Another component to ensuring the success of the Walking Wetlands is cooperation.  Since Ron has been at the Tule Lake Refuge, he says he has seen cooperation between farmers and Fish and Wildlife grow.  As long as the program is successful for farmers and conservation, it will continue to work.  A big part of building that cooperation is, as Ron points out, having people like Loren who work with farmers to build trust between Fish and Wildlife.

“Communication is the key,” said Loren to building that trust and the relationships with farmers.  Keeping participating farmers up to date about the progress of the programs is as vital as working to ensure the physical structures are in place and the funding to support them.  Loren and Ron both stressed that communicating to the public about the benefits of the Walking Wetlands program is also important.

When will they know when the Walking Wetlands is a success?  “When it’s a bona fide program,” said Ron.  Other refuges, from the Skagit Valley in Washington down to the Sacramento Delta are implementing the Walking Wetlands.  Word of the Tule Lake Refuge’s program is even getting attention beyond the West Coast and various universities are studying it as a part of their conservation curriculum.  As time goes by, Ron and Loren are learning more about the benefits of having a wetland rotate throughout an area, which will hopefully lead to support and funding from the federal government.

Regardless of whether the program garners full governmental support, for Walker Brothers, the program is incredibly successful and we’re happy to participate in it.  We would like to take this opportunity to thank Ron and Loren for the hard work they do on behalf Klamath Basin farmers as well as to thank them for their time to talk with us for this blog post.  Thank you, gentlemen!

If you’re interested in more information about the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge or the Walking Wetlands program, you can reach Ron at the Refuge headquarters at 530 667-2231.

 

 

farm, gold dust, Klamath Basin wildlife, sustainable farming, walker brothers