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Family Farm Profits Up in 2014 But Water/Soil Conservation is Key Reports OSU Extension on Sharon Kleyne Hour Power of Water
Date:8/14/2014

ke Oregon, where Powell works. Oregon has very distinct seasons but the winters are normally not cold enough to freeze the ground. Cover crops hold the soil in place during the winter rainy season, prevent the heavy rains from leeching out nutrients and help maintain organic content. Common winter cover crops include various grasses, rye and oats. Intermingling legumes such as fava beans, clover or alfalfa alongside the grasses will improve the soil’s nitrogen content. Soil should always be kept covered with a mulch layer to inhibit water evaporation.

Organic content also creates heat as the material decomposes, Kleyne notes, which reduces the threat of soil freezing.

The suggested small farm practice, according to Powell, is to grow commodity crops in summer, such as hay, wheat, soy or corn, and “niche crops” in winter. Niche crops are small specialty crops sold directly to the local market. The purpose is to maintain organic content and maximize yield and profit between major harvests. The list of potential niche crops is endless and includes medicinal herbs, vegetables, heirloom crops and ethnic foods such as mung beans and chili peppers.

Niche crops may also be grown in greenhouses or in “high tunnels” in the off season, says Powell. A high tunnel is a temporary greenhouse or tent in which crops are planted directly into the ground and protected by the tent, which may be 100 feet long. Kleyne notes that some niche crops may also utilize the land underneath a forest canopy. Forest understory niche crops include morel mushrooms, hazelnuts, little princess pine for root beer, elderberries, blackberries, huckleberries, truffles, and much more.

Perennial commodity crops that are not replanted every year, such as grapes, apples, pears, walnuts or hay, do not require a winter cover crop but they will benefit from mulching and improvement of soil organic content.

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