WALLOWA COUNTY — Remember those bright, yellow fields of mustard and canola early this summer? Well, they’ve dried to a golden brown and are ready for harvest.
On Thursday, Aug. 27, Tim Melville was combining a 90-acre field along the Lewiston Highway several miles north of Enterprise to harvest “intercropped” mustard and peas. He estimated the harvesting came about a week later than normal.
But he couldn’t wait any longer, as the peas were fairly bursting from their pods.
“It’s time to be cutting,” he said. “We’re still trying to find a variety of mustard that ripens about the same time as the peas. As it is, a deer walks through a field like this and it’ll knock the peas to the ground. And we cannot pick them up.”
Melville is co-owner of Cornerstone Farms Joint Venture, along with his wife, Audry, and their sons and daughters-in-law, Kevin and Kerrie, and Kurt and Heather. Several grandchildren are already waiting in the wings to join the venture.
In an EO Media Group story published in July, Kevin Melville explained the benefits of intercropping that the Melvilles learned several years ago from some Canadian farmers. It’s where a farmer intentionally grows two or three crops together on purpose on the same ground for a greater overall yield.
Grown alone, he said peas in a dryland field produce about 1,500 to 2,000 pounds on a single acre, while mustard comes in at 750 to 1,000 pounds per acre, with canola a bit higher. But that requires one acre for peas and separate acre for canola or mustard.
When intercropped, the farm sees 1,200 to 1,400 pounds an acre of peas and 500 pounds of mustard on the same acre. Again, canola produces a bit more.
Tim Melville estimated the no-till farm is getting a yield of about 2,500 pounds of the combined crop per acre, which he said was “better than average.”
Kevin Melville estimated about a fifth of that would be mustard and the rest peas.
Cornerstone Farms also produces wheat, barley, oats, flax and alfalfa and timothy grass hay.
Tim Melville said son, Kurt, was harvesting oats while he was doing the mustard/pea field and they’d be cutting wheat and canola in a week or so. He said they use the same combine and header — the attachment on the front of the combine that actually cuts and harvests the crop — that are used with other small grains.
While his dad and brother were operating combines, Kevin Melville saw to the separating process at the family farm on a hillside just outside of Enterprise.
The combined mustard and peas go from a truck into a barrel separator that spins and has holes large enough to allow the small mustard seeds to fall through, but not large enough to let the peas through.
The two grains are then shipped separately. The peas will go to the Pacific Northwest Farmers Co-op in Genesee, Idaho — between Moscow and Lewiston — and the mustard goes to Columbia Grain in Great Falls, Mont.
Kevin Melville said the peas are used mostly for split-pea soup and in snacks favored in Asia.
The mustard, he said, likely goes mostly into condiment mustard.
“It’s kind-of a specialty deal,” he said. “The world doesn’t need a lot of mustard.”
He said the price for mustard was contracted at 23 cents per pound, which he said was about normal for the crop.
The peas, however, come in much lower at about 12 to 13 cents a pound, which he said was not very good.
“It’s mostly due to an embargo by India,” he said.
And it’s always a roll of the dice for farmers when it comes to the weather. But this year was no snake eyes.
“We had the most beautiful rains this year,” Kevin Melville said. “It was spot-on perfect.”