Colusa and Glenn County Resource Conservation Districts
Daniel Unruh came to California from South Dakota in 2006. In 2010, shortly after marrying his wife, he helped his new father-in-law plant 190 acres of walnuts on his property.
The walnut farm was passed down to Daniel and his wife a few years later. Today, the couple utilizes NRCS and resource conservation district assistance to maximize the soil health benefits of using cover crops, compost, and a no-till system in their orchards.
Daniel started using cover crops when he realized he had nematodes in his soil. “I found a nematicide that was a mustard derivative that I really wanted to use, but it was largely unavailable at the time,” Daniel told NACD. Instead of searching for a mustard-based chemical, he decided to grow mustard in between the trees.
“I noticed a 97 percent decrease in nematode population after three years of the white, yellow, and nemagon mustard and daikon radish mix,” he said. “The nematode population has continued to decrease, and finally, we’ve begun to see new growth in trees affected by the nematodes. Since fall 2016, I’ve used a unique cover crop mix of 15 species.”
When Daniel began planting covers, his soil was extremely compacted. The first year he used them, he didn’t get a very good stand, but he persisted the next year and planted more densely between the trees. “I’ve continued to plant cover crops, and every year it has gotten easier as the plants break up the soil and allow for water infiltration,” he said. “Each year the stand grows a little thicker.”
Daniel has also had to deal with criticism from many farmers. His response has been to educate folks and invite them to his farm to learn about his soil health practices.
Like many farmers along the Sacramento River, Daniel must monitor pest populations in his orchards closely so that he only sprays where and when it’s needed. Additionally, Princeton, like most of California, is prone to drought. To help keep his soil moist and retain any water that comes in contact with his soil, Daniel maintains his cover crops so that they help hold onto moisture, as well as open up the ground to help with infiltration.