A Visit to a Farm in Madras to Learn about Water, Food, and Farming

This article was published on: 07/27/23 4:33 PM

Sarah Ross, DRC’s PGE Project Zero Communications Intern, recently joined DRC staff and community members on our Raise the Deschutes Farm Tour. Here’s a recount of her enriching experience.

The Farm tour took place at Fox Hollow Ranch, located south of Madras and owned by the Richards family. Kevin Richards showcased his family’s commitment to sustainable farming practices, demonstrating technologies they’ve implemented such as drip irrigation, Scientific Irrigation Scheduling (SIS), and wireless irrigation monitoring, all to improve water use efficiency.

An intriguing highlight of the tour was the ranch’s unique approach to crop rotation, aimed at optimizing weed control and improving soil health and diversity. Besides hay, their rotation plan includes crops like hybrid carrot seed, Kentucky bluegrass seed, peppermint oil, and wheat. They frequently incorporate no-till and minimum tillage practices and have started using cover crops to boost soil health and reduce the usage of fertilizers and chemicals.

Amidst the fully blooming carrot seed crops, we were treated to a picturesque view of sprawling fields along the hillside and the distinctive aroma of carrot seeds. An intriguing sight was the deliberate empty rows between male and female carrot seed plants. Kevin explained that this was to facilitate growth and cross-pollination which is especially important given that most of the Richards’ carrot seeds are hybrids. As we discovered, the inclusion of bees enhances the vigor of the seeds through cross-pollination.

We were surprised to learn that about 55% of the national carrot seed production happens in Jefferson County, with Crook and Deschutes Counties contributing an additional 10%. The regions of Madras and Culver play an instrumental role in this, supporting a significant portion of global carrot seed production, with extensive exports to Europe and Japan, which underlines Central Oregon’s vital role in the international market.

This tour left a lasting impact on all attendees. We wrapped up our tour with an increased appreciation for local farmers and the long hours they work to make the most of the little water they have during this multi-year drought.

The DRC is continuously working to address water issues in the Deschutes Basin. Farmers, such as the Richards family, who hold junior water rights must farm with less water than other irrigators in the basin. The Richards have had to make tough decisions to fallow land due to the severe droughts in recent years. To ensure reliable water access and instream flow restoration, DRC’s dedication to a basin-wide collaborative effort to conserve water, restore instream flows, and support local farmers is indispensable to balancing the diverse water needs across the region.