OFB Field Notes: An afternoon at Duyck Family Farm
Farm Bureau members Larry Duyck and Jacque Duyck Jones are the 3rd and 4th generation of Duyck Family Farms, established in 1907.
The scene: Duyck Family Farm in Washington County
The day: July 28, 2016
The reason: An afternoon farm tour by two exceptional Farm Bureau volunteer leaders: Larry Duyck, OFB Board member, and his daughter Jacque Duyck Jones, vice chair of the OFB Ag Education Committee
The Duyck family farmhouse was built in 1910. As a way of honoring his parents and grandparents, in 2013 Duyck remodeled the home’s interior, and today Jones and her husband live there.
Situated on a scenic stretch of rural road in Washington County is a stately white farmhouse with a wrap-around porch. In front, a sign proudly proclaims, “Duyck Family Farms, established March 7, 1907.”
Larry Duyck and Jacque Duyck Jones are the third and fourth generations on this certified Century Farm, which raises kotata blackberries (similar in taste to marionberries, but firmer), blueberries, and perennial ryegrass for seed — all quintessential Oregon ag products.
The farm raises kotata blackberries, which taste similar to marionberries but are firmer.
After 13 years working as a civil engineer traveling nationally and internationally for projects, in 1990 Duyck followed his agricultural roots back home to Roy, Oregon, to work on the family farm full time.
“Engineering skills translate to agriculture: mechanical work, recordkeeping, trying to be organized,” he said.
During the school year, Jones teaches at a nearby elementary school, helping Duyck with farm planning, equipment maintenance, and field upkeep on the weekends. But in the summer, she farms with her dad full time. Her goal is to learn as much as possible — and one day take over the operation herself.
This year the farm harvested a record 1 million pounds of kotata blackberries.
“I love working with Jacque,” said Duyck. “We think very much alike.”
“We anticipate each other’s next moves, so it makes things go smoothly,” said Jones. “Farming takes a lot of planning and a specific sequence of steps.”
On this particular day in late July, Duyck and Jones have already survived the height of summer harvest, the busiest time of year for many Willamette Valley farmers.
Mechanical pickers harvest the blackberries through the night when the berries aren’t as soft.
“Farming is hard and exhausting, but it’s also very fulfilling,” said Jones. “We do our very best to raise safe, high-quality crops.”
Their harvest season began with blackberries in mid-June, followed by blueberries, then grass seed. There was definitely overlap as the different crops peaked, making for some extra-long work days — and nights.
“We pick the blackberries at night because it’s cooler and the berries aren’t as soft,” said Duyck.
The farm is transitioning from a traveling irrigation system (pictured) to a drip line, which will allow for more targeted watering and improved water conservation.
The farm uses large mechanized pickers, equipped with headlights, to harvest the berries. Long teeth vibrate while combing through the plants, shaking the fruit into a catcher with a conveyor belt. It takes four people on the picker to keep the berries sorted and stacked into flats as the machine moves through the field.
“We picked 1 million pounds of blackberries this year, our best crop ever,” said Duyck. “But it was a bad year for price. We pick the crop, haul it in, and a few months later find out how much we get for it. It can be a challenging way to do business.”
Raised on the family farm with her two sisters, Jones has been helping her dad for 20 years.
Indeed, one of the many uncontrollable factors that farmers and ranchers must deal with is the price buyers pay for their product, which is set by the commodity market. Crop prices can change dramatically from year to year.
The priority for the blackberries at this stage was watering to foster new cane growth. Duyck explained how canes develop during the spring and bear fruit the following year; the canes also only produce fruit once in their lifetime.
In the summer, Jones works with Duyck full time; the rest of the year she’s an elementary school teacher. Her ultimate goal is to take over the family farm.
The farm is in the process of converting from a traveling irrigation system, like a large mobile sprinkler, to a drip line, which distributes water via tubes on the ground. The drip line will bring water directly to the base of the plants for more targeted irrigation, greater water efficiency, and improved fruit quality because the berries will be kept drier.
In late July, there was only one more field of perennial ryegrass that needed to be combined.
On this day in late July, grass seed harvest was nearing its end; there was only one more field of perennial ryegrass to combine.
Driving slowly through the field, the combine scooped up rows of mown grass and separated the seed from the straw. Collected seed was dumped into a truck waiting at the edge of the field and was taken to a nearby cleaning facility.
Combine cab view: The combine separates perennial ryegrass seed from the straw.
“They clean it and bag it. Then the seed company takes it,” said Duyck.
There used to be a strong international market for the leftover grass straw, but not anymore. The West Coast labor crisis a couple of years ago crippled the Port of Portland’s shipping capacity, and Oregon farmers like Duyck are still suffering the consequences.
Collected grass seed is dumped into a truck and is taken to a nearby seed cleaning facility.
That evening, as is their daily summer ritual, Duyck and Jones sat on chairs next to the barn to discuss what needed to be done the following day.
“Plan your work, work your plan, just like in engineering,” said Duyck. “But in farming, you’re also dealing with unpredictable, dynamic factors like the weather.”
And pests and equipment breakdowns and fluctuating market prices.
“It’s amazing what we do in a single day,” said Jones. “From combining grass seed, to getting machine parts, to managing employees.”
Besides blackberries and grass seed, the farm raises blueberries. Some of the blueberry bushes were planted by Duyck’s dad Joseph in the 1960s.
In the fall and winter, while Jones teaches full time, Duyck works in the office on the books, in the shop on equipment, and in the berry fields pruning or spraying.
“It’s a year-long process to raise a crop,” said Jones.
When they aren’t busy farming, Duyck and Jones are dedicated Farm Bureau volunteers. Duyck serves on the OFB Board of Directors, representing Washington and Columbia County Farm Bureaus, and Jones is vice chair of the OFB Ag Education Committee, organizing public outreach projects to teach kids and consumers about Oregon agriculture. Both are also active in Washington County Farm Bureau, working on local issues.
“I believe in Farm Bureau. It’s like a way of life,” said Duyck. “Farm Bureau is like family. It’s different from other organizations that way.”
A field of kotata blackberry canes
When asked what he wanted the public to know about farming, Duyck said, “Many people don’t realize that farming is business. A field is somebody’s livelihood. Some think that farmers don’t do anything to raise a crop, that it just grows by itself and the farmer harvests it and makes money. It takes a lot of work. And most of the profit goes straight back into the business.”
Jones responded, “There’s a lot of news about labeling and food safety and health these days. I want people to know that we work really hard to raise safe crops of the highest quality. We do the very best we can and we really care.
“I like working hard for something I can be proud of,” she added, looking at Duyck. “I’m proud of our crops, Dad.”