Lattin Farms extends growing season, increases water efficiency
February 13, 2019
Rick Lattin and his family, owner of Lattin Farms in the Lahontan Valley, have been farming since 1909. Rick discovered, when sorting through his father's things, that his grandfather cultivated a relationship with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in the early 1940s (then the Soil Conservation Service), as evidenced by a 1942 conservation plan he uncovered. Like a time capsule, the conservation plan is a great reference book for Rick to look into the history of his family's farm.
Thumbing through the delicate pages, it indicates what types of soil they have with hand-colored charts, what and how many animals they had, what types of crops they were growing and what suggestions NRCS, in cooperation with Cooperative Extension, gave to conserve and improve the farm.
Lattin has continued the family's relationship with NRCS, enabling him to find solutions to combatting drought, extending growing seasons with high tunnels and getting available water to plants more effectively and efficiently. These efforts provide for more profitability over an extended growing season, and the water efficiency provides more time for other things.
"One of the things that struck me when I discovered this conservation plan is that our family has been working with the agency for almost 100 years to make this work. And I can attest to being the fourth generation on the land," Lattin said. "We still use the NRCS to help us make our farm more productive, and even more importantly to us farmers, more capable of providing a living for folks — because if we can't make a living and make this a sustainable business, we have no business being here."
Water is very important in the Lahontan Valley — and sometimes scarce. The Lattins worked with NRCS over the years to install concrete-lined ditches.
"There's no way we could have done that without the assistance of NRCS," Lattin said. "NRCS also helped us put in an underground tile system that allows us to catch the excess water that goes into the ground when we irrigate. We've figured out how to pick that up and reuse it to run our drip systems, which allows us to save water and use less water."
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Now, they're only using about 2 acre-feet per year of water, where their allotment is 3-and-a-half. The underground system allows them to pick that excess water up and pump it through their drip lines to about 200 acres on the farm.
Many of Rick's high tunnels, or hoop houses, were acquired through NRCS' Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Agricultural Management Assistance program.
"We found that the hoop houses extended our season, increased our yields and let us sell crops that don't do well outside due to our weather conditions," Lattin said. "We have a rotational program that includes cover cropping with rye in some of the winters and then we do double cropping when we can: early season greens and root crops, and then main season we do tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and a little bit of squash and cucumbers for our roadside stand.
"The hoop houses have become very versatile for us with the kind of products we can grow, the number of products we can grow and the season in which we can grow them.
"We have an ongoing relationship with NRCS. It goes back decades — they've been very important to the success of our farms," Lattin said. "NRCS helps us forward think and look at what we need to stay competitively positioned to provide food and fiber."