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Saturday, January 2nd, 2021

I haven’t posted for a long time due to uncertainty about my grain operation. In the late fall of 2019 the family who had rented me land for next to nothing for 12 years suffered the loss of the their mom. The family needed to make the ranch pay for itself and leased it to a local walnut grower who can pay real rent. I can offer nothing but great thanks for the time I had on the ranch and with the family.

Because I had the land enrolled in the Conservation Sustainability Program of the USDA I had to make a decision. That program was paying me annually for using no-till, cover crops, and crop rotations. If I failed to formally cancel my contract I would owe all the money back. If I planted my crops and then the tenant needed to plant his walnuts my investment would be lost.

In the end I decided to cancel the CSP contract and not plant. Planting involved buying some more equipment that seemed unwise under the circumstances. With no place to store my equipment, I donated my combine to the Center For Land Based Learning in Woodland, CA and sold the rest.

At this point I am still open to the possibility of some land showing up closer than the 50 miles I was commuting but realize it’s a long shot. I’m 72 and not up for risky enterprises. Grain was always a low-margin crop and takes a bunch of equipment. Ironically, since the pandemic started I have had a high volume of calls seeking out rye, my main crop. I sorry to have to turn people away.

Wild Weather Year

Tuesday, May 21st, 2019

My last post way back in January described conditions too wet for planting from Thanksgiving onward. That never changed. I get Natural Resources Conservation Service grants for some of the cost to do no-till, cover crops, and crop rotation so I had an contractual obligation to plant a cover crop. The fields were flooded but my NRCS field supervisor said to plant anyway and regard it as an experiment. I would have need a swamp buggy to drive in the field so I sloshed around the field on foot, broadcasting seed with a hand seeder. I figured I walked 10 miles doing that.

I had to disappoint several people who were looking for cereal rye since I never got any planted. Now I’m not so regretful since this May is on track to be the wettest on record. Any rye I that grew would have been flattened by some downpours we’ve had.

The effect of an unpredictable climate is undeniable. Five years of drought, a year of torrential rain, a year with very cold dry conditions, and now this. I keep trying this restorative farming because we’re in for more and probably worse. Restoring soil health can pull carbon from the atmosphere and help slow climate chaos while making farming more resilient to these weather conditions.

Too Dry Then Too Wet

Wednesday, January 9th, 2019

As of late November all my fields were dry and hard since there had been but a brief rain in early October. The photo at right shows the amount of crop residue that was left from last year. Amongst that was a thick mat of medusahead, an invasive exotic grass that suppresses other seeds than its own. Though I’m trying not to disrupt the soil biology, this year I really needed to suppress that invasive grass with some soil disturbance.


Close to Thanksgiving I thought a window was opening with a little rain that would soften the soil so I bought organic fertilizer for a cash crop and seed for the cover crop. Then it started to rain and has kept on with only short breaks ever since. Now it is early January with no break in sight. I am hoping for some drying later this month or next that would allow me to plant all my fields. I must plant the cover crop one way or another to meet my USDA contract, but the cash crop is uncertain.


It’s clear that the weather patterns that prevailed over my first seven years of grain farming are no longer holding. This highly changeable weather is what climate warming models have predicted. It seems even more important to persist in this regenerative farming effort to see if I can create some resilience model that would grow crops no matter what the weather does.


Monday, October 9th, 2017

As some of you locals have surmised, I have left the grain milling business, though not the farming. The birth of my first grandchild and the desire to get loose for more backpacking, bicycling, and travel before I get too old convinced me that it was time. I sold the equipment and grain inventory to Drew Speroni who has worked for me for a few years.

On the farming side, I am excited to be entering into what I call data farming. I have mentioned in past posts applying for USDA grants to experiment with cover crops, no-till planting, and rotational grazing. The grants came through, so I will plant some acres to a cover crop mix of cereal rye, daikon radish, and bell beans. I will plant a smaller amount to cereal rye alone for a seed crop. I am paying for a special heavy planter to put in the crops without any plowing or disking. The idea is that this type of planting does not disturb the microbial life in the soil and that means more organic matter, fertility, and CO2 storage.

In early spring Mark Lefler, who grazes cattle on this ranch, will be putting his cows on the cover crop ground, concentrated in small plots and moving them frequently. I hope to control weeds and harvest the benefits of manure this way and he gets forage for the cows.

As I said, it’s all experimental but I plan on learning a lot. Agriculture will need to change with a changing climate, to mitigate the damage of past practices, and to feed a lot more people. I hope I can help.

Farm News February 2017

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

There hasn’t been a whole lot of farm activity for the last month. As all the Californians know, it just kept raining all January—26 inches in Nevada County. I have been down to check the fields and growth of everything, including weeds fortunately, has been slow.


As I mentioned in my last post the rye leaf tips are showing purple and very pale lower down, at least in some of the fields. After consulting with Amigo Bob Cantisano of Organic Ag Advisors in Nevada City I am putting on 150 lbs./acre of organic potassium sulfate when the fields get a break from rain. The plants can take up that much quickly but not lose too much to leaching from the soil, plus it won’t break the bank. That should give the plants a boost when the soil warms up and things start to pop. Addressing shortages of soil phosphates is a longer-term project.


Meanwhile, I have my application in with Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for funding for no-till on part of the acres and cover crops on another portion. I should hear yay or nay later in the spring.


Testing again

Friday, December 2nd, 2016

Sorry, don’t mind this!

Fall 2016 Farm Update

Sunday, November 20th, 2016

It’s been a long time since I posted something. Part of my omission was laziness and the other was uncertainty about plans for the future. The drought that badly hurt two of my crops in the last three years made me wary about planting. Last winter would have been the year to invest in seed and fertilizer since it rained normally. I got a late start and soil conditions weren’t great for planting, so my friend Mark Lefler and I broadcast cereal rye seed on my acreage and used some chainlink fence as a drag to cover it with soil.


I had intended that when the rye grew up Mark would put his cows on small segments of field at a time, letting them graze down weeds, and then moving them to a new patch in a couple days. Weeds have been a big problem and with this system I hoped to get manure for fertilizer and keep the weeds at bay. At a certain growth stage for the plants we would pull all the cows and let the rye make a grain crop for me to harvest. It was so cold in December and January that the rye didn’t grow much and then it rained so much that he couldn’t get his cows across the creek from another pasture. In late springI let him graze all except for 5 acres. I didn’t harvest that in the end because it was thin and my harvester was giving me fits.


This year I’m trying again. I really want to make a no-till system work for several reasons. One is the weed control, second is the manure, third is to preserve the microbial life in the soil that provides nutrients and holds carbon, and last is to try to control costs. There is lots of evidence and promise in making healthy soils that grow crops better and help keep CO2 out of the atmosphere.


In my next post I’ll detail some of the steps I’m taking.

Mark spreading rye seed with a spinner spreader.

Mark spreading rye seed with a spinner spreader.

Harvest 2011 Notes

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

I finally finished my grain harvest this past week, almost exactly a month later than last year.  The cool, rainy weather all spring slowed down maturing of the grain heads and then the surprise half inch of rain at the end of June were the cause.  Fortunately I was able to harvest the vulnerable oats and Sonora wheat the day before the storm.  They have very long straw and could have lodged (fallen over) if there was wind with the rain.  A few days of sun and I got the red wheat last.  Yield is poor as I expected because of poor planting conditions in the fall but better than I expected.  The oats are in high demand for breakfast cereal so I really wanted to get them.  I plan to be ready to plant way, way ahead of time this fall.

Welcome to the new Grass Valley Grains blog!

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

We’re busy farming right now, but we’ll be posting some great stuff up here shortly! Interested in something specific? Post it in the comments below!

-Evan Hamilton
Son, Website Guy