"Leave the land better than you found it," Albert Lundberg used to say. In 1937, Albert and Frances moved to California from Nebraska after experiencing the devastation of the Dustbowl. The growing and processing techniques of Lundberg Family Farms have developed out of the family's experience. Albert recognized the role short-sighted farming techniques played in the Dustbowl. He became committed to working in parternship with nature by using ecological farming techniques that care for the soil, wildlife, air and water. Albert shared his respect for the land with his four sons, who in turn passed their deep-rooted beliefs about the land onto their children. Since 1937, the Lundberg family has been faithful to Albert's farming philosophy. To this day, we use the following farming techniques on family fields in order to ensure we leave the land better than we found it.
Farming Practices- Winter
What are cover crops? Why do we grow them?
Spring is often associated with beginnings. But when it comes to rice farming, farmers have to be thinking about the upcoming crop as soon as the previous year's crop has been harvested. Cover crops are crops we grow during the off-season (winter) to restore nutrients to the soil. Rice consumes a lot of nitrogen in particular, so many cover crops are nitrogen-producing plants. In the videos below, Bryce Lundberg (VP of Agriculture) discusses the benefits of cover crops to farmers and fields.
"My name is Bryce Lundberg and I'm one of the family members at Lundberg Family Farms. Today, I thought we'd look at some Cover Crop's and how they're starting to grow, and the value of cover crops, and what we have here. I'll just maybe show you what we've got: We've planted Oats & Vetch. This leafy plant here is Oats and the more fine, or fern-looking plant, is Vetch. Vetch is a legume and it's a real important part of our overall cover crop and soil health. The legumes will take nitrogen from the air and put it back in the soil, so the cover cropping is a critical part of soil health."
"You can see we had a nice rice crop here. This particular field we had eco-farmed arborio; It's what we use to make the risotto, like the Creamy Parmesan Risotto. And so you can see that the straw has been turned back into the soil. The soil is a nice heavy adobe clay and this straw will decompose all winter and the cover crop will grow up a foot to two foot high and then next spring will mow it all down and turn it back into the soil and replant rice."
"The critical thing about the cover crops though is that in the wintertime it rains in Richvale, a lot. And we need to keep the water from building up in the fields and drowning the cover crops. So what we do is we come out in the wintertime after heavy rains and we need to go through and find pockets of water and get them moved into these channels that we've put through the fields like this drain here. You can see that the drain already has a lot of water in it. We'll come through and make sure that the water is moving out of the field so the cover crop's not going to drown. This is a really nice cover crop; it's got a great start and it's going to be an awesome cover crop for improving the soil."
How do we prepare the soil for planting?
(A tractor is used to mow the cover crop and create a loose seedbed)
Before spring planting, the cover crops are mowed or disked into the soil in order to produce a nice, loose seedbed. This seedbed should be perfectly level, so we use landplanes, GPS or laser leveling equipment and rice ring rollers to smooth the surface of the soil. If the field is not level, we won't be able to manage water efficiently. Water management is incredibly important to us because in our family's fields, water management is weed management. Continue reading to learn more about how we use water to help rice compete with weeds.
How do we fertilize our crops?
A major philosophy of organic production is managing crop production as a system with many interrelated complementary factors, which is why as producers we have an Organic Systems Plan (OSP) addressing multiple areas of production. Nitrogen fixing crops and a rotation plan play a large role in maintaining organic rice production fertility; a rotation plan would be planting the field to a crop other than rice, such as a cover crop/legume or resting it from production for a season.
Rice varieties have different fertility (nitrogen) needs and for some varieties, this need can be met solely through a field coming out of rotation with a healthy cover crop, while others require additional nutrients. For example, some growers may have soils that are conducive to growing other crops and therefore rely solely on rotation without addition of other fertility materials. When additional fertility is needed, there are various categories of materials that are approved through the National Organic Program and Organic Materials Review Institute (https://www.omri.org/). The most commonly used fertilizers in California organic rice production are raw poultry litter – as long as it meets Organic Systems guidelines, compost and dried pelletized materials. Each of the suppliers of chicken litter guarantees to us or our growers that they do not use arsenicals in their poultry production systems, nor do they add any inputs after the litter has left the chicken houses.
Aside from fertility balance, cover crops also add essential organic matter, other nutrients and improved tilth of the soil which helps the soil overall health and allows for improved nutrient exchange between the soil and plants.
What kind of wildlife inhabits the fields during the winter?
(Children help collect mallard eggs from Lundberg fields during Egg Aid)
Cover crops provide excellent habitat for shorebirds, ducks and other migrating waterfowl. Each year, before spring planting, we recover hundreds to thousands of mallard duck eggs from the cover crops prior to mowing the fields. Volunteers from the District 10 Wild Duck Egg Salvage Program go through the fields before we begin our spring tractor work. After rescuing the ducks, volunteers take them to a hatchery where they are incubated, cared for, banded and released back into the wild. Every other year we host an event called Egg Aid, during which we invite local elementary school students to help comb the fields for nests. The event serves as a fun and educational opportunity for kids to learn about rice farming and how Lundberg strives to work in partnership with nature. To learn more about Egg Aid, click here and here. To see some of our rescued ducklings hatch, watch the video below!