Wmdfell Farm An Experiment In Intermediate Agriculture

"We want to grow the highest-quality, best-looking organic produce possible and stay competitive with our chemically oriented neighbor," says Steve Talbott, of Banks, Oregon. To do this, he and his father are developing "a workable, efficient, small-scale family farm" that specializes in row crop vegetables. Affectionately named Wsndfell, the farm doubles as a home enterprise and an experiment in intermediate agriculture.

The key to the Talbott system is a transplanting machine called the Hydro-Synchron, invented and patented by the Talbotts, and a cropping system called Jetspeed. Jetspeed is the registered name for an integrated system of diversified row crop production, using high-quality facilities, machinery, and tools and an intermediate technology applicable to a small- or medium-sized operation, from 5 to 160 acres.

The system is neither capital-intensive nor labor-intensive, using both in an appropriate balance to maximize labor efficiency, provide a human scale in the process, and maintain as much as possible a diversity of tasks for workers. At the small end of the scale, the operation can be run by a family with seasonal help at harvest. At the other end, a sizeable outside payroll would be required. The Talbotts* system is ecologically sound, energy-efficient, uses the land intensively, adapts to highly diversified cropping, and they believe, is demonstrably profitable. Transplanting, as opposed to direct field seeding, is the key to Jetspeed.

During 1976 and 1977, research and development of all aspects of the Jetspeed transplant row crop system continued at Windfell Farm, some 70 acres located 24 miles west of Portland, Oregon. Windfell was advised that the soil, the slope, and the general conditions were not favorable for row crop production. The acreage had been in grain for years with mediocre results. But the Talbotts accepted the challenge and developed markets for their Biogold products in local communities and the city of Portland.

Long, straight rows of evenly spaced seedlmgf that require no thinning and a minimum of cultivation are the end product of the Hydro-Synchron, the key to the Talbotfs planting system.

Long, straight rows of evenly spaced seedlmgf that require no thinning and a minimum of cultivation are the end product of the Hydro-Synchron, the key to the Talbotfs planting system.

Some craps have been routinely transplanted by some growers lor generations. The process is slow, often back-breaking and always inefficient, resulting in severe plant shock and mortality. Assuming an improved transplanter, the transplant system insures precise plant spacing and thus, maximum field population. Weeding and thinning problems are greatly reduced or even eliminated with good management, and maturity is more uniform so harvesting costs are reduced. The shorter period frcM.'t transplanting to harvest means a more intensive and cost-effective use of the land. Talbott advises, "The figure on the bottom line is what counts."

To adopt a transplant system required either a reliable source of plants or a facility for producing them. Wind fell developed the systems and the specialized equipment necessary to produce hardy phutts that grow fast with stocky tops and strong, branching root systems. Their double-poly house is particularly well adapted to these techniques.

Thousands of seedlings get a good start and grow into TODD Planter Flats with pyramid-shaped cells, hardy plants inside the Talbott double-poly home.

Thousands of seedlings get a good start and grow into TODD Planter Flats with pyramid-shaped cells, hardy plants inside the Talbott double-poly home.

After investigating many different plant-growing systems, it was clear that the Speedling System was the one to adopt. In this system, the patented TODD Planter Flats with inverted, pyramid-shaped cells rest on aluminum T-rails. This promotes natural air pruning of the root system. The result is rapid branching and concentration of the root structure withisi the cell. Plants can be transplanted with virtually no shock and without interruption of growth.

The Jetspeed planting mix is composed of 50 percent peat, 50 percent vermiculite, bone meal, lime, dolomite, and several additives that have been found to produce the ideal transplants with strong, stocky tops, and quick-growing, widely branching root systems which can be easily pulled intact from the Speedling trays at an early date. The Talbotts found that for the small operator, mixing and tray filling can be done economically with hand labor and good organization. But they found that seeding without an efficient seeder was very time-consuming and costly. Hence the Digit-200 seeder.

The Digit-200 Plate Seeder Gene Talbott

An ingenious invention, the Digit-200 seeder is simply a tray which sets on top of the 200-unit, cavity trays and has small holes placed exactly in line with where a seed should be deposited. A pile of seeds is scattered across the tray, one dropping in each hole. Excess seeds are gathered at one end. When the tray is lifted, one seed is left in each tray cavity and a thin layer of vermiculite is spread on top. With the Digit-200 seeder, six 200-unit trays can be planted per minute. Making such efficient

A short, powerful blast of fertilized water is the key to the transplanter. The four synchronized nozzles force water into the soil at designated spots as the tractor-pulled transplanter traverses the field. Through a braking system that allows the spray to remain stationary as the tractor continues Us slow pace, the driver of the machine need only keep it on course. No stopping or restarting is necessary. As the holes are created, a new seedling is inserted by one of the riders who sits fust behind the jet sprays.

use of hand labor, this simple tool exemplifies the kind of inventive work which is needed to develop an appropriate, intermediate, small-farm technology.

The indispensable key to success with the transplant system of row crop production is the transplanter. Experience illustrates that conventional transplanters were totally inadequate; so the Talbotts developed a completely new machine using the hydraulic jet principle. The result was the Hydro-Sy net iron, a fast, efficient, multirow implement that uses water jets to drill holes to receive the transplants. The drilled holes instantly fill with mud and water (together with a starter solution if desired), and die roots, hand-placed, are sealed deep in the muddy solution at any desired plant and tow spacing. Three workers can transplant six rows of lettuce at the rate of about 8,000 plants per hour; wing units increase the planting capacity threefold.

Experimental Machinery Seats
Boxes of seedlings are placed directly in front of the three seats the riders occupy. Seedlings go from box to soil at a suprisingly unhurried pace considering the tractor maintains a constant crawling speed through the field.

Beyond planting, the Talbotts have other devices and techniques to complete their system. At Windfell, the main implement used in soil preparation is a Rototiller with a corrugated roller pulled in tandem for minimum tillage. Tillage is limited to the upper four inches of the soil. If the organic content of this layer is maintained, the open structure and fertility of the sublayers will be built continuously by a healthy biological population in the soil. Drip irrigation appears to be their only solution to a limited water supply.

Integrated pest control is an area of continuous investigation at Windfell, The availability of compressed air has facilitated experimentation with air-atomizing nozzles attached to the Hydro-Synchron for ultra-low-volume spraying. Numerous test programs are being conducted using some of the recent biological control methods.

For optimum population, the beds are five feet wide, six feet six inches on center and 500 feet long. Population is 2,550 plants per bed, with six rows nine inches apart and plants staggered at 14 inches apart in the row. The spacing is precise and each plant has exactly the same space to grow. It is estimated that with direct-seeded lettuce or celery, uneven spacing cuts the optimum field population by at least 20 percent. Add to this the approximately three-week longer growing period with direct seeding, and the dramatic difference in the two systems is clear.

But experience reveals another important factor with the Jetspeed transplant system—weed control. The rapy! establishment of the crop canopy tends to smother weed growth. The beds shown were neither machine cultivated nor hand hoed—and no herbicides were used.

The Walker Harvester, another Talbott development, is a fine implement for assisting in field picking and packing of summer squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers. The machine is self-

Self-Propetled. Walker Harvester Gene Talbott

propelled and has a hydrostatic drive which is instantly adjustable to any appropriate speed, forward or reverse. A guidance wand keeps the wheels tracking in the spaces between the permanent beds. The two rear wheel cages are adjustable to accommodate various bed widths.

At Wmdfe.ll, in order to insure a uniform, standard pack, summer squashes are harvested every day, beginning in June and continuing into October, The Jetspeed transplant system brings the crop to market early. Covering the beds with black plastic mulch and transplanting through the plastic will cut another two weeks olï the time to market. Other experimental forcing systems are expected to bring the start of harvest even earlier. The grower with the earliest crop can quickly establish his market and command the top preseason prices.

For the small- to medium-sized grower, depending on the local market, diversification can be very important. The Jetspeed transplant system is particularly adaptable to the production of diverse crops side by side. Gross returns from just one lettuce bed were $404 (202-dozen heads at an average price of $2.00 per dozen). One acre consisting of 13 beds grossed $5,252. Under climate conditions at Windfell, a minimum of four and possibly five cycles per season may be obtained. The potential gross per acre is substantial!!

E,V, Prentice Machinery Co. 2303 N. Randolph Ave. Portland, OR 97227

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