Fritz Durst is a sixth generation grain farmer in the Sacramento Valley. He became an early adopter of no-till and soil conservation farming methods in order to revitalize Tule Farms, his family’s 6000 acres in the Dunnigan Hills outside of Woodland, CA.
In the mid-eighties, Tule Farms suffered. Decades of conventional farming had impoverished its soil, and soil erosion was a persistent problem. So when Fritz came home after college, he and his father sought ways to heal it. They began planting wheat and barley directly into the residue of the previous crop, preventing erosion gullies from forming during winter rains — gullies being cracks in the rolling hills by which soil could be carried away. This no-till method, along with other conservation tillage practices, helped reduce soil loss from 6 tons to 2 tons in just one year. His work earned him a Resource Conservation District “Cooperator of the Year Award” in 1986, and the Conservation Tillage Farmer Innovator Award from the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in 2011.
His experience was the beginning of a change in his ideas about farming. “I used to just look at the plant itself and ask, ‘What does a plant need to grow?’ Today I look at many different things. I look at myself, my family, my employees. My number one focus today besides employees is my soil. If I give to my soil, my soil will give back to me,” he says.
The farm also practices water conservation by dry-farming 4,000 acres of its land. By following a special rotation of crops to help retain water, his wheat, garbanzo beans, and safflower are able to rely solely on rain.
Besides dryland crops, Fritz produces organic vegetables, safflower, rice, wine grapes and sunflowers for seed. On his certified organic plot in Capay Valley, Fritz grows irrigated and dry-farmed organic Patwin (hard white), COLR (hard red), and rye for Community Grains.