During the bleak cloudy days of winter it seems that all we did was pray for a bit of sunshine. Now, as a dusty pall hangs in the air turning blue skies to ochre, all we want is a good shower to knock down the dirt. It seems we can’t be satisfied. Such is life in a farming community.
It has been fascinating watching the cycle of activity on the Skagit Valley farms. We got here at the first of September during harvest. Now we get to see the fields being prepped for planting. We have watched the fields go from this…
That transformation comes about through a bit of luck with the weather, good land management, and a heap of hard work. After the harvest farmers used backhoes to dig trenches across the fields so that the winter rains would drain. In some places pumps were used to clear off any remaining standing water.
Not all of the fields flooded over the winter. Some had been left fallow or were used to grow hay. A couple of the fields we passed daily were used to graze cattle. All of these are now in preparation for new crops.
It takes multiple passes with heavy equipment to transform flooded or grassy lands into tilled soil ready for planting. If there was grass, some farmers sprayed to kill any remaining vegetation. Then there was a rough pass to turn the soil, leaving furrows with large lumps.
The rough fields were then harrowed repeatedly until the fields were smooth and uniform.
Fertilizer was spread across the fields, turning them white. Those were then harrowed again.
The problem for us is that this kicks up a heck of a lot of dust. Particulates hang in the air obscuring views upriver toward the Cascades and westward across the islands.
It astounds me the amount of equipment involved in a large farming operation. Each of the large field tractors retails anywhere from $200,000 to $400,000. Several of them work the fields together. Along with specialized plowing equipment and support vehicles, there could easily be several million dollars worth of equipment in a field while it’s being plowed.
It’s also been fascinating to watch how crops rotate over the years. This past fall we watched as truckloads of potatoes were harvested. According to Duff, potatoes can only grow one season in a given field, then that field has to lie fallow in order to recover. Tulips are the same way – one season per field, then rotation.
I took this photo in 2007. This field had cows grazing on it. This past spring that same field was being prepped for planting.
Once the crops come in even more specialized equipment will take to the fields. I caught these blueberry pickers in action two summers ago.
I can understand how farming is a tough job with high risks, and I understand how some farmers can run into financial trouble. It requires lots of capital in terms of land and equipment. It’s a wonder that fresh food isn’t even more expensive. And for that reason I can put up with a bit of dust in order to enjoy the fruits of their labors when the crops come in.