Willamette Valley Agriculture: Interview with an Expert

August 15, 2022
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The Pacific Northwest encompasses many diverse climates and terrains and supports all kinds of farming. Within this picturesque region of the country, the Willamette Valley stretches north to south on the central western side of Oregon and is in itself widely varied and extremely significant in U.S. agriculture.

In honor of our first Oregon offering, Willamette River Farm, we took a deep dive on this special region with AcreTrader Business Development Manager Kyle Knight, who has multiple decades of experience in the ag industry and has in fact spent time farming in the Pacific Northwest himself.

willamette river valley

Crop diversity on the Willamette River Farm.

Here’s our interview with Kyle:

Tell us a bit about the geological history of the Willamette Valley and how it affects soils today.

During the previous 20,000 years, there were ice age floods which caused the soils from Montana, Idaho, and Washington to be carried away and deposited in the Willamette Valley. This, along with being covered with water and forming a lake multiple times over many years, deposited the loamy soils which are so productive today.

What about the human history of the valley?

The Willamette was home to many Native American tribes. Interestingly, these tribes would often burn the forests to open up the canopy and allow animals to flourish. They also grew several agricultural crops. Once the Oregon Trail opened up, the landscape changed. Settlers arriving in the 1850s from the eastern United States were drawn to the productive land, adequate rainfall, and opportunities to market. (Learn more about the valley’s history here.)

What are some major crops grown in the Willamette Valley?

The major crop grown in Willamette Valley is grass seed. Essentially all of the U.S. production of annual ryegrass, perennial ryegrass, bentgrass, and fine fescue seed are grown here. Also, the straw from the seed production is often compressed and exported from the Port of Portland for added revenue from grass seed.

Additionally, vegetable production has increased in the past 10 years and has been revived by the presence of frozen and fresh vegetable processors. The other strong agricultural sector is hazelnuts (aka filberts), planted acres of which have increased greatly over the previous 10 years. Lastly, there are large nurseries which grow both seed stock and transplants for the commercial and retail market.

What makes the Willamette so agriculturally diverse?

Four main factors strengthen the diversity of the region:

  • Temperate climate: This is due to the Cascades mountain range to the east and the Pacific Ocean on the west.
  • Location, location, location: The Valley is very close to the Port of Portland, allowing for export and marketing of many agricultural products.
  • Good soils: The soils are deep and well drained, often consisting of sandy loams, which allows for many crops to be grown in the region.
  • Abundant water: The Willamette Valley receives large amounts of rain in the spring and early summer.

How abundant is water?

Average rainfall is 40+ inches per year. This is not only great for crops but also supports a shallow water table. That means irrigation water is available, and drilling wells doesn’t cause a great expense since they don’t need to be drilled deep into the ground. For comparison, it’s common for counties in Illinois to see about 40-50 inches of rain per year on average.

Can you share a few personal impressions from your time farming in the Pacific Northwest?

I raised a fair amount of bluegrass seed and reclamation grass seed while farming in the Pacific Northwest (PNW). The grass seed industry began and continues to flourish in the Willamette Valley, primarily due to the climate and less rain during the harvesting months of July and August, along with soils which support the growing of grass seed crops.

What are some of the challenges of farming there?

Just as rain is a blessing, it can also be a curse when you receive too much, or it comes at the wrong time of the year.

How is farming here (the PNW) different from other major farming regions?

All farming areas are different. This is important because crops that need certain temperatures and climate conditions will thrive in one area and struggle in another area. Sometimes it’s as simple as cool nights versus high temperatures at night. Each species of plant responds differently to temperature, soils, light, and precipitation.

Do local produce markets play a bigger role in the Willamette Valley than in other regions of the country?

Not anymore. The produce industry was bigger in the valley 75 or 80 years ago, but much of that production was moved to larger growing areas such as the Columbia Basin of Washington, the Magic Valley of Idaho, and the Yuma Valley of Arizona.

What’s become very evident is that some areas are uniquely qualified to raise certain crops, so packers and processors have spent large amounts of capital to support specializations within these growing areas. There are several large processors in the Willamette Valley which allow farmers to contract and sell the produce, seed, and nuts most suited to the area. This benefits all parties, including the consumer, who gets the highest quality for the lowest cost.

What is AcreTrader’s current presence in the Willamette Valley and the PNW?

This is the first farm offering in the Willamette Valley and the fourth in the PNW.

How does AcreTrader source its investments there?

The Willamette River Farm was sourced by a local farmer. The seller had enlisted the help of a local broker, but the farmer, Corey Dickman was responsible for bringing this opportunity forward. AcreTrader had communicated and worked with Corey for the last two years prior to this investment coming together.

Can you speak to Corey Dickman and Dickman Farms’s experience or eagerness to work with AcreTrader?

Corey is the type of person who has a keen sense of understanding and business savvy. He and his family have four generations of experience to lend to the management of the farm and business.

The Willamette River Farm represents a small portion of the total land the Dickman family operates. They’re not small, but they’re not a mammoth business either. This approach means they’re large enough to manage resources efficiently but small enough to worry about the smaller details that are so crucial in the produce industry.

Final Thoughts

  • The Willamette Valley is a unique growing region within the PNW that benefits from productive soils, abundant rain, and proximity to market delivery points.
  • It’s known for grass seed as well as vegetable and hazelnut production, among many other crops.
  • AcreTrader’s growing presence in the PNW rests on expertise within the region and strong relationships with farmers.

Create your account today to keep an eye on our current farm offerings, including any upcoming farms in the Willamette River Valley.

The above content is not intended to be a comparison between products, but is intended for general, educational and informational purposes only. Any performance noted is historical and there is no guarantee any trends will continue. All investing involves risks, including the complete loss of principal. Diversification does not guarantee a profit or protect against loss in a declining market. It is important for each investor to review their investment objectives, risk tolerance, tax liability and liquidity needs before investing. Investment vehicles have differences in fee structure, risk factors and objectives. Investments are considered speculative, involve a high degree of risk and therefore are not suitable for all investors.

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