The goal of the internship was to select an agricultural site for study and develop a plan to make the agricultural operations on that plot of land more ecologically sound. In my first and second meetings with John Warriner, we surveyed a variety of agricultural landscapes from tree farms, to fallow ground, to organic gardens, to livestock operations. I elected to work with the livestock operation Thundering Hooves, owned and managed by Joel Huesby. Joel had recently acquired a series of new pieces of land, one of which I selected to work with. The piece is a seven acre plot of land currently in alfalfa production that I was planning to turn into a grazing pasture.
For that piece specifically, I wanted to maintain a pasture without the use of irrigation. I decided that the best polyculture for the land and climate would be one that had existed there naturally. I therefore focused the first part of my research on native grasses of the Walla Walla area, and how viable they were for sustaining livestock. In our meeting, Joel had also mentioned that his poultry operation relies on natural insects to supplement the bird’s diet. I therefore incorporated a poultry area into my plan for the pasture, so that the natural insects it produced could be utilized as well. The third element came to me through John, who informed me that Joel was also considering placing a pond on the seven acre piece. Seeing a pond as a benefit to the biota of the plot, and not at ends with the pasture, I incorporated that in as well.
The pasture polyculture is to consist of blue-bunch wheatgrass, and Idaho fescue, prefrenced by cattle. These will be supported by Needle-and-Thread and Sandburg bluegrass, which are preferenced by sheep (Walla Walla soil survey). If the plot is grazed alternately between sheep and cattle, half the grasses can be in recovery while the others are in use. In November I did a biota survey of the seven acre piece and discovered Sandberg bluegrass growing in the field margins. This is a good indicator that the field can potentially support the aforementioned polyculture with minimal modification. This polyculture also appears naturally in the Walla Walla area, showing further evidence that it would support a pasture that required minimal input. If the by-products of the cattle are kept in the system and returned to the soil through natural processes, the nutrients actually removed from the system in the form of meat products will be minimal, and so only a little if any fertilization will be required.
The poultry area is to be located on the ecotone where the pasture meets the pond vegetation. This allows the poultry to benefit both from insects produced in the pond and pond vegetation as well as in the pasture. The poultry area should be elongated to maximize surface area over which insects could cross into the poultry area.
The pond can be located anywhere on the plot, and its size can be determined by Joel’s needs. The one concern is that it should not be placed where any significant cattle manure could run off into the pond, which would hamper the environmental benefits of the pond. The vegetation occurring on the margins should be transplanted from naturally occurring wetland grasses in the Walla Walla area. The pond vegetation will provide good habitat for water fowl to be used as game birds, as well as an area of insect production for the poultry.
The internship was more challenging than I had expected. Although I feel that my biological education was sufficient for the research I did, I felt overwhelmed in many of the agricultural situations. The largest shortcoming is that I was unable to determine the potential productivity of the land if my polyculture is used. John was helpful in leading me to resources and people that might be of some service, but every person I contacted on the matter failed to get back to me in time for the completion of this project. If the project is to continue with another participant, finding information on the potential productivity of the land would be a good starting point. Part of this should be an understanding of how much more productive the land becomes with the addition of irrigation.
Both John Warriner and Joel Huesby were enthusiastic about their operations, and were very helpful in making me a part of those operations. The internship did require a lot of direct participation by John and some by Joel, however. This was a problem at times because they both maintained busy schedules that often made it difficult for me to meet with them and continue my investigations. I met with John Warriner about seven times, which was sufficient for the internship. I only met with Joel once, however, and feel that if the internship was to be more in line with his goals and objectives, I should have met with him more frequently. Since Joel did not sponsor the internship, it would be unfair to expect him to give more time to the internship than was in his interest. I would like to continue to work on the land, although if I do so it will not be in the context of an official internship, so I have more freedom in my participation.
Although I was unable to answer all of my questions, I did develop a strong enough plan to meet my goals and objectives. I have confidence that my plan for the seven acres will create a very ecologically strong agricultural operation while still providing sufficient productivity.