Dan O’Brien and family raise Certified Animal Welfare Approved by A Greener World (AGW) and…
Pleasant Grove Farms – Pleasant Grove, CA
Pleasant Grove Farms is a third-generation family farm located north of Sacramento in Pleasant Grove, California. Owner Ed Sills’ father, Tom Sills, began farming in Pleasant Grove in 1946. In 1976, Ed returned from college to join his father working full-time on the farm. Ed’s wife, Wynette, moved to the farm in 1988 after working as a UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor for Sacramento County. Today, Ed, along with the farm’s employees, produce Certified Regenerative by A Greener World (AGW) crops including corn, wheat, rice, vetch, triticale and beans on approximately 3,000 acres.
After frustrations with conventional farming practices and markets, Ed turned to organic farming, beginning with 45 acres of popcorn in 1985. “We looked ahead and decided that our profitability and survival required a different production strategy,” says Ed. “The subject of Sustainable Agriculture was becoming prominent at agricultural colleges, and I became interested in the concept of farming practices that would improve the soil resource, produce good yields and protect the environment at the same time.” In 1996, Pleasant Grove Farms converted the last of its acreage into organic production and has been committed since. The farm is now also Certified Regenerative by AGW, which provides a whole-farm assurance of regeneration and sustainability, measuring benefits for soil, water, air, biodiversity, infrastructure, animal welfare and social responsibility.
Crop rotation and cover crops are key components to the regenerative farming practices at Pleasant Grove Farms. “Crop rotation and cover crops are the essence of our farming system,” says Ed. “Every fall we plant a vetch cover crop on almost every acre of our farm. Vetch is a legume, which can take nitrogen from the air and incorporate it into its cells, and is one of the most important cover crops found on the farm. Non-legumes, such as corn and wheat, must take nitrogen from the soil where it is often a limiting factor in plant growth. By growing vetch in the winter and incorporating its plant material into the soil in the spring, we provide nitrogen for the future crops. The vetch cover crop also helps improve soil tilth, protects against erosion, reduces compaction, builds soil organic matter, and provides habitat for wildlife. On some of our fields, the cover crop provides enough fertility to grow high yielding crops with very little additional fertilizer. For other fields, in addition to cover cropping, we apply poultry compost once or twice every four years to give our crops the nutrients they need to provide a good yield of high quality.”
The land at Pleasant Grove Farm is divided broadly into two crop rotation systems. The heavy, poorly draining soils operate in a two-year rotation, and the lighter soils follow in a three or four-year rotation. “The two-year rotation consists of one year of rice followed by one year of no-tilled green fallow,” says Ed. “Green fallow is a year where a cover crop is grown and the land is rested between cash crops. The three-year rotation consists of corn or popcorn, beans, and then wheat. The four-year rotation adds rice to the three-year rotation. The rice is planted between the corn and bean years. In all the rotations, once our crops are harvested, all of the remaining plant material (straw and stalks) is incorporated into the soil to return fertility and build soil organic matter. We never bale straw or remove organic material that could otherwise be building our soils.”
Pleasant Grove Farms operates an on-farm seed cleaning and bagging facility, where they prepare many of their field crops for sale into the food, feed and seed markets. They also offer seed cleaning services for other organic farmers and food companies. They are also involved in on-farm research aimed and increasing sustainability of their organic practices while improving yields and reducing off-farm inputs.
Certified Regenerative by AGW products are sold into wholesale markets. For more information, visit pleasantgrovefarms.com and contact the farm at (916) 655-3391 and firstname.lastname@example.org.