A weekly series about our food and sustainable agriculture.
The day we visited David Brewer of Emerson Dell Farm in late July, he was nearing the end of his wheat harvest on about 1200 acres of dry-land crop. Brewer’s soft white winter wheat has low gluten strength, and most of it is shipped to overseas markets used to make pastries and crackers.
Brewer, a 5th generation farmer, was having what he considers his best wheat harvest ever. His success, he largely attributes (in addition to favorable weather) to his decision years earlier to switch to a no-till system that leaves the soil covered throughout the year, and more recently to crop rotations that help replenish the nutrients in the soil, and reduce the levels of soil pathogens that can harm the wheat crop.
The decision to switch to a no-till cropping system was one borne out of necessity. Due to the steepness of the farm terrain, and its soil characteristics, soil erosion from water (and wind) threatened the continued survival of his century-old farm. Over the years, he made conservation tillage efforts (leaving some of the stumble on the harvested land) to reduce the threat of erosion, and thought he had the problem under control. But, over an 18-month period, a once in 30 year flooding event occurred 4 different times, resulting in certain places to a significant loss of top soil. As a result of his switch to no-till in 1997, he was able to eliminate further soil erosion from occurring on his farm.
As we see in the video, Brewer’s efforts to address more of the fundamental causes of his problems, and his willingness to test new farming practices has helped him to continue to farm profitably, and maintain the viability of his family farm into the future.