not only for service, but also for learning: “There’s some self-motivation in all this volunteering, you know. You can ask the right questions, keep your ears open, listen to different people from different places.”
Russ has become very interested in the possible connection between organic matter, soil health, the nutritional value of food, and their impacts on human health. He believes that connection is under-researched, and the knowledge gained would be very beneficial. He also expresses concern about the sources of funding for research: “Some research efforts and their funding come from the chemical companies, like for glyphosate. I don’t think enough research is being done to monitor the effect on the soil biology of repeated applications of glyphosate.” Such information is important for designing and improving direct-seeding systems.
He worked with other farmers and STEEP (Solution to Environmental and Economic Problems), a joint program of the University of Idaho, Oregon State University, and Washington State University, which was an innovative interdisciplinary research and education initiative focused on developing profitable cropping systems technologies for controlling cropland soil erosion and protecting environmental quality. His views about the contribution of public research to his farming enterprise are ultimately somewhat mixed. On the one hand, he recognizes some definite advantages in his location near two land-grant universities (Washington State University and University of Idaho) and has personally experienced benefits, particularly from USDA-ARS work on green bridge management and from STEEP’s work on cropping systems rotation research. On the other hand, he notes the constraints now facing public agricultural research. He says, “Generally speaking, the land-grant universities are not always doing the kind of work we’re looking for [to answer the questions we have].” This, in part, motivates his involvement with ViCo, as discussed above.
Russ sees a need for much more research investment in the genetics of pulse crops, where knowledge has lagged the extensive work on corn and soybean. He identifies a continuing technical challenge that research could address—how to avoid the “yield hit” in the early stages of transition to direct seeding. Managing the heavy residue common in this region (which can depress yield) is another area that needs research. Better information and resources for weed control in no- or minimum-till systems would be very helpful, in his view.
A big issue for growers in this somewhat remote region, and of concern to Russ, is dependable and efficient transportation infrastructure. Rail access is particularly important for the cooperative, which is looking to be more strategically positioned in terms of its rail access. The cooperative is also very concerned about the river system on which it relies to move grain from Lewiston to Portland. Environmentalists and sportsmen are pushing to breach the dams on the upper Snake River, but that would make the barge transportation on which the cooperative now depends no longer viable.