New Ideas Crop up on Amity Farm

Helle and Bruce Ruddenklau collect a ryegrass seed sample on their farm near Amity. Rotational crops have added economic vigor.
Helle and Bruce Ruddenklau collect a ryegrass seed sample on their farm near Amity. Rotational crops have added economic vigor.
About one cup of grass seed is gathered by hand, then tested for moisture content in a lab on their farm.
About one cup of grass seed is gathered by hand, then tested for moisture content in a lab on their farm.
Bruce adds grass seed to the Koster moisture testing equipment. Harvesting too soon, or too late, will reduce income.
Bruce adds grass seed to the Koster moisture testing equipment. Harvesting too soon, or too late, will reduce income.
The taste of experience: Helle tests wheat for readiness by cracking the grain with her teeth.
The taste of experience: Helle tests wheat for readiness by cracking the grain with her teeth.
Research and information from OSU Extension online publications guides decisions on crop management and harvest.
Research and information from OSU Extension online publications guides decisions on crop management and harvest.
OSU Extension faculty Don Horneck and Nicole Anderson share latest research at field crops tour.
OSU Extension faculty Don Horneck and Nicole Anderson share latest research at field crops tour.
Bruce uses precision farming technology to swath, thrash and combine seed at the optimum time.
Bruce uses precision farming technology to swath, thrash and combine seed at the optimum time.
Bruce and Hello Ruddenklau are excited about today's farming crop options on their 1000-acre farm.
Bruce and Hello Ruddenklau are excited about today's farming crop options on their 1000-acre farm.
Helle Ruddenklau on wheat research
By Mary Stewart, OSU Extension Regional Communications and Marketing Coordinator

AMITY, Ore.—The sun-bronzed hands of farmer Bruce Ruddenklau work furiously as he rubs a bunch of perennial ryegrass stems and seedheads until the slender grass seeds fall into a small white bucket. His wife, farmer Helle Ruddenklau, follows suit and they both continue to hand thresh and strip the heads until a cup of seeds are collected. 

The seed sample is taken back to a simple lab in the Ruddenklau’s shop and weighed, heated for a brief time in a Koster moisture tester, then weighed again as part of the test to determine seed moisture content. The seed moisture information will help Bruce and Helle determine the best time for swathing their grass seed crop, ensuring the seed will be harvested at the optimum time. “We will need to cut this field soon,” says Bruce as he reads the dials on the equipment and consults the OSU Extension Seed Moisture guide which recommends the best swathing moisture levels by variety of seed crop. The recommended moisture level for perennial ryegrass seed is 35-43 percent.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING

“The information we get from Oregon State University Extension is phenomenal,” says Bruce, who is raising three varieties of grass seed and six other crops on his 1000-acre farm. Bruce and Helle have owned the productive farmland for 22 years. “If we get behind and don’t cut at the right time, we stand to lose 20 percent of the crop from loss, or, if we cut it too early we will lose 20-30 percent from seed being light and not good,” he explains. The Ruddenklaus look to the OSU Extension Seed Moisture guide to help them determine optimum seed moisture content for swathing various seed crops.

“Measuring seed moisture content is the most reliable method to determine seed maturity and predict harvest timing in grass seed crops,” says Nicole Anderson, OSU Extension field crops faculty. Other methods, including visual observation, are not always precise enough to maximize seed yield and minimize seed losses in the field.

On the Ruddenklau Farm, grass seed is harvested in a two-step system.  First, the standing crop is cut with a swather at the recommended seed moisture content and dried in windrows until ready for combining, which can be several days to two weeks depending on weather conditions. Second, the swathed crop is threshed when dry by using combines with belt pickup attachments.

DEVELOPING NEW WHEAT VARIETIES AND BEST MANAGEMENT PRACTICES

Willamette Valley farmers depend on new wheat varieties to stay on the leading edge of the agriculture product market, and to find varieties that have high yield potential, can tolerate a high rainfall environment, and have genetic resistance to fungal diseases and insect pests. “To develop new varieties, OSU Extension personnel work closely with both public and private wheat breeding programs to  conduct variety trials across the region, both at OSU research stations and on commercial fields under real life conditions,” says Nicole.

Ongoing education is another important piece in farming success. “Without question we learn important information from OSU Extension’s crop tours and field days,” says Bruce. “You have to make the effort and be there.” A recent field day in the North Willamette Valley taught growers best practices to use when applying fertilizer to farmland in order to reduce the loss of nitrogen through volatilization. 

“Extension agents are a sounding board,” says Helle. “They keep us informed with quick updates and news alerts.  They provide excellent information that gives us the independence to make our own informed farm management decisions.” 

ROTATIONAL CROPS SHOW PROMISE

The Ruddenklaus have benefitted by rotating diverse crops – growing and harvesting broadleaf crops in a field followed by grass crops. “This has really been an advantage,” says Helle. Instead of relying on just grass seed crops, they are raising crimson clover and other broadleaf crops such as radish and peas for the Japanese sprout market and as cover crops for Midwest farms. 

They also produce sugar beet seed, meadowfoam, and wheat, spreading the workload across most of the growing season and making efficient use of the land, labor and equipment.

“Some of the rotational crops have become main stream,” says Helle. "We needed some viable crop alternatives when the grass seed industry went down. The Midwest cover crop program has come along at a good time for Willamette Valley growers."

The new choices and success of the rotational crops have infused an element of enjoyment into the annual process of deciding what to grow. “Now it’s a fun thing,” says Helle. “It used to be that you had to raise that one crop, and it wasn’t going to make us much money but it was investing in the future. Now, the rotational crops are good crops in themselves and it is exciting!” she adds.

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Photos by Mary Stewart

Learn More:

Using Seed Moisture as a Harvest Management Tool

The OSU Extension Service provides a variety of information on agriculture production for farms of all sizes. Resources include tips and advisories, faculty consultations, videos, podcasts, crop tours and field days, how-to publications, and newsletters.

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