Churchill County keeps solidifying its place as the agricultural center of Nevada.
A seed cleaning operation that took several years to become operational has put Desert Oasis Teff & Grain on the map for the small grain.
“We have the farmers growing teff,” said Fallon’s Jay Davison, a retired alternative crops and forage specialist at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.
Davison said teff is one of the smallest grain seeds in the world that requires one-half to two-thirds the water other grains need. Sixteen years ago, Davison contacted three dozen farmers from around the area to listen to a teff producer who wanted farmers to grow about 500 acres of the grain. Since that presentation, more and more farmers began to grow teff, and now Nevada and Idaho are among the top producers of the grain.
“About six to seven ranches are growing it,” Davison said at an open house for Desert Oasis Teff & Grain, which opened last year.
Fallon farmers and longtime friends John Getto and Dave Eckert began growing teff as an experiment a decade ago, but then they decided to build a seed cleaning operation and grow more types of gluten-free grains.
“We got the plant running a year ago, but it took two years to build it,” Getto said. “We grow our own teff, and if we need more, we have other farmers.”
Not too long ago, Getto hauled 10 tons to a Woodland, Calif., mill where they ground and bag the teff into 1-pound bags. They sent whole grain in bulk to Bob’s Red Mill in Milwaukie, Oregon, for its own processing.
“We try to get it into places that have the biggest inventories,” he added.
Now, Desert Oasis’ cleaning and storage facility on Golden Circle is filling a niche for the grain by sending grain in bulk to processing plants, and also providing smaller quantities for the Fallon operation.
“This is bringing dollars to the community,” Davison said, adding when the businesses increase so does the workforce.
Alan Dodson, a retired city of Fallon worker who now oversees some of the seed cleaning operating at Desert Oasis, said dirty, raw seed goes through a very thorough cleaning process.
“We ensure the teff falls into the bins,” Dodson said. “We keep it (the process) operational and bag the teff at the end.”
Dodson, who was giving tours during the open house, said a custom-made seed cleaner was built to accommodate the small grain size. Once complete and operational, Dodson said the seed-cleaning and bagging process can require long days.
“My record is a 13-hour long day,” Dodson said, “and we averaged seven bags and 2,000 pounds for each bag.”
Then, once loaded, each truck hauls 22 bags to a processing facility.
Teff is a three-month, rotational crop, and Dodson said many people are finding different uses for the grain. He said some people give their horses teff feed and hay.
Ann Louhela, grant project manager with Western Nevada Specialty Crop Institute, said the cooperation among the agencies and Desert Oasis has been very satisfying. She pointed out four feasibility studies were developed that led to a grant to assist with website design, packaging design and promotion. Getto said he and Eckert have appreciated Louhela’s in acquiring the grants.
According to Louhela, Desert Oasis received a number of grants to help kickstart its sales.
“John worked with me and the marketing company (Bare Knuckle Marketing),” Louhela said. “This was all new to John.”
Louhela spent time reviewing grants for both Getto and Eckert and what grants were available for their venture. Getto said Desert Oasis received support from many people.
“The grants are not free money,” she said. “You have to work for them.”
Since 2007, a $30,000 Rural Business Enterprise Grant was awarded to the Churchill Economic Development Authority to purchase initial equipment (CEDA leased the equipment to Desert Oasis to help them get started); in 2017, a $27,500 Rural Business Development Grant went to the Nevada System of Higher Education, Western Nevada College, to provide marketing assistance and website development to Desert Oasis Teff; and in 2018, Desert Oasis received a $49,999 Value Added Producer Grant to market and expand the regional teff market and to design and establish the company label and the smaller retail bags.
“Ann knew the contacts,” Eckert said of the marketing. “It’s a totally different world.”
Getto said their business is going well, and with growers in other counties, he and Eckert figure 1-2 million pounds of teff will be processed annually.
Nathan Strong, CEDA’ executive director, said his agency worked through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and facilitated meeting between Desert Oasis and the University of Nevada, Reno School of Business. CEDA also coordinated the open house and the day for Desert Oasis to launch its brand.
Philip Cowee, state director for USDA Rural Development, said Churchill County is among the leaders in Nevada.
“I’ve watched a lot of rural communities, and they don’t have the high-speed programs Fallon has, especially with all the local foods in the forefront of that,” Cowee said.
Not only is Churchill County among leaders in agriculture, but Cowhee also cited Peri Brothers in Lyon County, who grow onions, greens, cabbage, broccoli and spinach.