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Oregon's Mid-Willamette Valley wetlands : agricultural uses, alternative uses, problems and trends Public Deposited

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  • The wetlands are distinguished from other lands of the Mid-Willamette Valley by excessive soil moisture. The wetlands, as defined for this study, consist of 20 soil series (in 22 soil mapping units) which are classified by the Soil Conservation Service as having excessive wetness as the major factor limiting their uses. The five counties considered in this study, Benton, Linn, Marion, Polk, and Yamhill, have been and continue to be important to the agricultural production of Oregon. In 1977, this region produced 28.4% of the state's value of sales from agricultural Products. In the same year, this five-county area also produced 100% of the nation's ryegrass, crimson clover, and red fescue seeds, and large quantities of other important seeds. Personal interviews were conducted with 141 wetland farmers during the period January through March, 1979. The land farmed by the interviewed farmers amounted to 63,748 acres, which represented 9.8% of the 652,000 acres of wetlands in the Mid-Willamette Valley. Farmer responses obtained from the interviews provided the data base for much of this study. Information Pertaining to farm types and crops were cross tabulated with other variables using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences at Oregon State University. The resulting statistics were evaluated for patterns of distributions and emerging trends in agricultural land uses. Of the surveyed farmers, 73% were full-time operators; the remainder were part-time, semi-retired, or hobby farmers. There were wide variability in farm sizes, 15 to 5,400 acres for full-time farmers, and 5 to 424 acres for part-time farmers. Farms producing grass seeds, row crops, and grain were generally large in size, while farms producing tree fruits, nuts, berries, nursery products, and other specialty crops were generally small. Although the Mid-Willamette Valley wetlands form a valuable part of Oregon's agricultural land base, the production capacity of much of the wetlands can be further upgraded by installation of drainage and irrigation systems. However, the current high costs for these resource converting systems, and the elimination of Federal cost-sharing for farm drainage projects, may make installation of these systems economically infeasible for many farmers. In early 1979, costs for installation of new drainage systems were $300 to $400 per acre. Irrigation systems cost $225 to $450 per acre, with the actual cost depending on the type of irrigation system selected. Farmers' perceptions of factors considered to have adverse effects on their farming operations were examined for two periods: the past five years, 1974 through 1978, and the current agricultural year, 1979. For the five-year period, 64% of the farmers stated that they had experienced what they considered to be serious problems. The two primary groups of problems were those related to reduction of the farmers' net income and farm production. The third group of problems pertained to policy limitations, particularly the acreage limitations to open field burning, and government regulations, restrictions, and interference. During the period 1977 to 1978, 10.6% of the interviewed farmers had made land use changes. The 15 farmers made 19 changes involving 773 acres. There were large net gains in acreage for legumes, and smaller net gains for row crops, peppermint, and strawberries. The largest net acreage loss was for grain. Smaller net losses occurred for grass seed and silage. Farmers who had made land use changes rated 12 of the 19 changes as satisfactory, 3 as unsatisfactory, and 4 as not possible to evaluate until crop is harvested. Most of the wetlands are currently limited to the production of grass seed due to the severe physical limitations. Therefore, open field burning will continue to be an important issue on Oregon's Mid-Willamette Valley wetlands.
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