Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Farming the Ball Creek Preserve

By Kennon McClintock, North Idaho Field Representative

The Nature Conservancy owns and manages the Ball Creek Preserve, a wetland, preserve and modern working farm. About 1,200 acres of Kootenai Valley ground is currently being farmed by Ty and Lisa Iverson. Both are University of Idaho graduates - Ty’s degree was in Agriculture Economics in 2004 and Lisa’s in Education in 2008. Both are born and raised in north Idaho, Ty right here in Boundary County and Lisa in Bonner County near Priest River.

Ty Iverson of Ball Creek Farm

Lisa is a popular teacher at the Boundary County Junior High, teaching Language Arts. Ty’s Mom, Tracy Iverson, taught at the High School for over 30 years and just retired last year. Ty farms over 2,800 acres total in the valley, with his dad Tom helping him, along with two other seasonal employees. This time of year it is difficult to catch up with Ty unless you meet him on a tractor in the field. Ty is a third generation farmer in the Kootenai Valley, and is a hard worker, smart, innovative and versatile.

Farming is very different from just a short 20 years ago, with the aid of advanced technology and modern farm equipment. Ty employs both to be successful, though he still must work with Mother Nature and change with the climatic conditions. The Ball Creek Preserve is sub-irrigated so where most Idaho farms always need more water, we are generally trying to ditch and move water away from the fields. Last year Ty lost between 300-400 acres of crops due to the wet spring and the seepage from underground. But because of this moisture and our good soils, the Kootenai Valley is some of the richest farmland in the Inland Northwest. This year Ty has several crops growing - he keeps well diversified in order to hedge against all the risks that are associated with farming (weather, markets and costs of fuel, pesticides and fertilizer).

Most of the farm produces Soft White Winter Wheat and Barley - both crops will end up in either China or Japan.  Ty also is growing Timothy hay and Alfalfa hay. The Timothy hay will end up in Japan and the Alfalfa hay will be delivered to central Washington where it will used as feed for dairy cows. The last crop being grown is Timothy seed and this again will be sold to the Japanese. Ty rotates crops frequently and uses canola and garbanzo beans as part of this crop rotation.  Canola is grown for food grade oil and is shipped either to Canada or Moses Lake, Washington for processing. Garbanzo beans are a relatively new crop for the Ball Creek farm and are delivered to a food processor in Moscow, Idaho where they make hummus. As you can see, Idaho farming is an international business.

Ty is a modern farmer and uses mostly all “no till” planting - all fall planting is “no till,” where spring planting uses “reduced tilling” in order to help keep the soil warm for seed germination. “Reduced tilling” uses some minor cultivation but rarely do you seed a totally plowed field anymore. GPS technology has been installed in all of Ty’s tractors, which track precisely his planting, spraying, and fertilizing. This saves both time and money, and is good for the environment.

If you had seen the Ball Creek farm 13 years ago before TNC purchased it, you would have seen a much different operation. Today with the Iversons' good management practices and hard work, the farming operation is economically viable and environmentally sound. We are very fortunate and very proud of this modern farming operation.   

Photos ©Kennon McClintock/TNC

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