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Friday, May 3, 2013

Flat Aggie Travels to California

This week Flat Aggie traveled all the way to the west coast to visit one of my dear friends from college.  Enjoy this post of crop variety!

Dear Mrs. Piatt & her First Grade Class,
I write to you today from Northern California, in a small rural town called Artois- Population 300.    

I have already learned so much since arriving here. 
·         is the Nation’s top agricultural state, 
·         produces more than 400 crops, and
·         grows nearly half of the nation’s fruits, vegetables & nuts. 
I am visiting the von Bargen ranch in northern California.

  Harold is a 3rd generation farmer & Scott the 4th Generation.

 with the 5th Generation farmers in training.

On the von Bargen ranch, Almonds, Wheat, Alfalfa, Oats, Strawberries, Sunflowers, Corn, and onions are grown.  I learned about Alfalfa, which is a perennial crop, meaning that once it is planted it will grow for several years. 

Alfalfa is planted in the spring or fall.  After the seeds are planted, and they begin to sprout they are weak and must be protected from weeds, but after developing a “crown,” which is the swollen top of the root, alfalfa plants are vigorous and can regrow many times each year after the tops are cut for hay.  Usually they get 5-6 cuttings of Alfalfa per year but sometimes 7.   The roots can grow up to 15 feet deep into the earth!  

Alfalfa is harvested with a swather, which cuts the plants a few inches above the ground and places the cut alfalfa into rows.  

Then it lays in the field to dry for 6-7 days depending on the weather conditions, before it is raked & baled into hay bales.  

 Bale weights on the alfalfa hay usually vary from 125 pounds for small rectangle bales to 1500-1800 pounds on large rectangle bales.   After the hay is baled it is removed from the field, so the plants can grow back.

All of the alfalfa on the ranch is flood irrigated which means they turn on an electric pump from a water well that has been drilled into the earth. Water is pumped down a pipeline where there are valves similar to a bath tub faucet but about 12” in diameter.  The valves are opened where the water is needed & usually stay open to run about 12-14 hours to make it down our field in one setting running 3-4 valves at a time.  Our 150 acre alfalfa field takes 14 days to get all the way across and then has to dry out 10 days before swathing, so it takes almost 1.5 months from irrigating through the swathing & bailing process until you begin the next cycle.   

Alfalfa is the nation’s 4th largest acreage crop.  In California, most of the Alfalfa is fed to Dairy cows to help them get the nutrition they need to produce milk, just like on the Heim Dairy.  Alfalfa is usually high in protein & is a very important rotation crop because it puts Nitrogen back into the soil which improves soil conditions for future crops.

While touring the country block in the von Bargen neighborhood which is a good country mile on each side of the block, I found lots of crops.  The von Bargens have an almond orchard.
Most all of the trees in the area are watered on drip irrigation which is micro sprinklers on black water hose tubing which runs the lengths of the rows in a orchard to water the trees to help conserve water.

 A new Walnut orchard was being planted where the black tubing had already been laid out & compost thrown out on the ridges in the prepared field where the trees were to be planted. 

As we toured around the block, there was a
·         herd of beef cattle,
·         walnuts,
·         pistachios,
·         grapes, 

·         olives, grown for table olives and olive oil,

·         plums,
·         onions,
·         sunflowers 
·         wheat that will be ready to harvest the end of May and

·         corn that is already off to a good start.

Most all their ground is irrigated with the exception of a few fields which they usually grow oats on or rent out to grow strawberry plants on which are harvested for the plants, not the berries.   There are several dairies where a lot of their alfalfa hay is fed to cows.  

I have enjoyed visiting the von Bargen ranch here in Artois.  

A special note from Sandy von Bargen:
When you hit California at the right time in late Summer, it’s not uncommon to see Farmer’s Markets everywhere or fresh fruit & vegetable stands along the side of the road.   We are so lucky to have such a great state that is so productive.  Be sure to check out the website at for a lot of great information about California’s ag in the classroom literature.   Next time you are in the grocery store in the produce aisle stop and think where all those fruits & veggies came from just to make it there.  You might be surprised if you labeled them all on a map. 

P.S.  Never leave Flat Aggie unattended with the puppy, Daisy on duty… 

No Flat Aggie was not harmed in this photo just rescued at the right time without any puncture wound.

-I am always amazed at the vast variety of crops grown in California.  It is certainly different from Kansas! To learn more about the von Bargen's almond production check out the post Almonds or Amonds? -KFM 

Be sure to check out Flat Aggie's other adventures in American Agriculture:

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