They know the rhythms of the seasons and every contour of the land. Their work helps keep small towns alive. Their efforts are making a difference in soil conservation and stewardship. Their lifestyle is the envy of many urban dwellers. And yet, as a nation, as public policy, we seem to be discarding family farmers… breaking them in their own field of dreams.
It was the promised land for immigrants in the 1860’s and 1870’s, a mystical landscape that, in time, produced more wheat per acre than any other place its size in the world. Stretching from Lewiston north almost to Lake Coeur d’Alene, the Palouse is a landscape of steeply rolling hills, where the soil is rich and deep. But the fascinating thing is that these hills did not originate in the Palouse. All this soil was blown in!
Geologists tell us to think of these hills as a sea of wind dunes, for they are the result of pre-historic dust storms from the southwest that transported the fine silt from ancient dried up lake beds.
Wayne and Jacie Jensen farm 3000 acres in the Palouse, near Moscow, Idaho. The Jensens farm land that is owned by a family corporation, put together by Wayne’s dad and his grandfather. Wayne and Jacie and their two sons, Guy and Carl, graciously allowed us to interview them for our OUTDOOR IDAHO program.
Like all farmers in the Palouse, the Jensens grow winter wheat. Wheat grows well in the Palouse, and the unique characteristics of winter wheat allow farmers to produce eighty or ninety bushels per acre. That’s almost double what is grown in many other places of the country!
But for a variety of reasons – a weak Asian economy, an oversupply of wheat worldwide, a strong U.S. dollar that makes exporting our wheat prohibitively expensive – farmers everywhere are having a difficult time; and the problems associated with farming are threatening to destroy the family farm.
Several farming friends of the Jensens discussed the joys and the difficulties of farming in a round table discussion at the Jensen home. All of them believe the family farm provides better stewardship of the land, compared to large corporate farms.