Navajo Crop Demonstration Project has been in place since spring 2011. Five farmers were initially involved in the project. One in Many Farms, AZ., one in Wheatfields, AZ., and three in Ganado, AZ. Because of the availability of farmland and water at very low cost, these farmers wanted to show other farmers that crops can be produced and a profit can be made from growing crops. Also, soil and water can be conserved and used wisely. One of the farmers in the project stated that “participating in this grant as a beginning farmer has allowed us and our family to share wonderful experiences and learning.” Back in the 1950s, farmers in the area used to share this same experience, but now it has been forgotten. Crops that were grown were: vegetables, corn, alfalfa, sorghum-sudan grass, oats, orchard grass and switch grass.
Our technical adviser, as he worked with and advised farmers in the area, noticed a need for this project. He met with farmers that were interested, and it was decided to apply for this grant and conduct the study. Many of us were struggling with raising crops and trying to finance the operations. Through this grant, we were able to conduct more research about our soil, fertilization and irrigation, and it provided more knowledge and experience for the future.
Because the individuals involved have livestock and buy hay, all of the participants decided to grow pastures and alfalfa. By doing this, the participants are able to grow their own feed and they can also sell what they don’t use for their livestock. Crops were grown to provide food for the family and to sell the crop to community members so that an income can be generated. The majority of the participants don’t have a large number of acres to produce in a large-scale manner, so the product can be sold locally. Squash is a very popular vegetable to sell, especially during the summer when squaw dances are held and the demand for squash is high as it is used in mutton stew during the ceremony. The corn is picked when it is still tender, and then it is steamed in a mud oven and sold as steamed corn. This corn can also be chucked after it is steamed and dried and then stored for the winter and used in stew. So, the participants grew crops that could be used by the family or could be sold locally to the community.
To provide adult Navajo farmers with sufficient resources to develop on-farm demonstration plots that will become learning centers for local farmers to see how sound management activities and innovative technologies designed for farms with limited water resources can be used to bring Navajo farms back to being fully productive and sustainable.
1. The farmers with the demonstration plots will gain a firm understanding of sound financial management practices for successful farming. They will be trained in proven financial record keeping techniques that will enable them to determine if their farming practices are economically sustainable and if they can be replicated.
2. The five demonstration farmers will each establish demonstration plots that will allow a comparison of traditional Navajo farming methods with newer innovative techniques or methods that are expected to increase crop production and sustainability.
3. The third goal is to compare a variety of crops, including vegetable and forage crops. Navajo farmers express the desire to raise alfalfa in order to eliminate the need to purchase alfalfa for their livestock. We hope to demonstrate that there are crops that will be better suited to be grown under limited water resources. Variety trials and data from those trials will help answer that question.
4. The fourth goal is to use field days and workshops to demonstrate farming techniques and management practices that can be replicated across the Navajo Nation to make small farms productive and sustainable.
5. The fifth goal is that five additional farmers will grasp the concepts of the demonstration plots in the first year of this project, and in year two, 20 additional farmers will be on engaged with productive farms.
Each individual participant provided their own materials such as tractors, implements, seed, fertilizer, pesticides, labor and irrigation water. The methods that were used to produce the crops were mostly methods that were passed on from previous generations. Because implements are not readily available, the planting methods were hand methods. Oats and alfalfa were broadcasted by hand. Corn, squash and other vegetables were planted by hand. One producer used planting implements and hand methods. For harvesting a mower and baler were used for the oats, the sorghum-sudan and the alfalfa; for the vegetables and the corn hand labor was utilized.
Results of the project were positive and useful. Even when a practice was not profitable, we learned that we need to investigate or try other techniques.
Farmers have demonstration plots and are gaining a firm understanding of sound financial management practices for successful farming.
Each participating farmer has established a demonstration plot that will allow comparison of traditional Navajo farming methods with newer innovative techniques or methods that are expected to increase crop production and sustainability.
Each farmer has planted a variety of crops, including vegetables and forage crops so that they will not have to purchase those products for their consumption and for their livestock.
Educational & Outreach Activities
Most of the publicity has been by word of mouth and by conversations held with individuals. Students that help with raising vegetables will go home and tell their parents and relatives about gardening. We sponsored one workshop on October 30, 2011 in Wheatfield, AZ. We were able to use the 48 acres of farmland to train several farmers about farming techniques and management practices. Other workshops that were sponsored were in conjunction with Dine’ College Land Grant Office. Each year more farmers grasp the concepts of the demonstration plots and start their own crop production. This will continue as the participants continue producing and expanding their operations.
The major impact that this project produced was that other growers were interested in putting their land in production. Their thinking is: if my neighbor can do this then I can too. This gives the participants an opportunity to teach what they have learned to their neighbors. Also, this project has impacted many young individuals to become interested in gardening.
A high tunnel green house was built for planting and harvesting vegetables earlier in the season.
Vegetables that were planted in the high tunnel green house were harvested a month and one half earlier than usual for our area.
Squash produced was sold at a local convenience store, and selling it was very good publicity for the program.
More than fifty students were involved in the project.
Producing organically grown vegetables for sale to the community has been a good practice and will continue in the future. A very good income has been generated in doing so for the participants. As more land owners start producing, more products such as hay, vegetables and other feeds will be grown for our community to buy locally. Our program participants can serve as mentors for others that are starting to go into agriculture production.
We have been using irrigation water from local lakes to irrigate, and we need to look into drilling irrigation wells that we can use as a backup when the lakes don’t have any water. This year one of the producers could not irrigate using the lake water because the lake didn’t have enough water. When this happens, the perennial crops don’t make through to the next year.
Some of the areas have soil that is high in clay, and as the season progresses and as more water is added to irrigate, the soil starts sealing itself and the irrigation water does not soak in very deep and the water starts to run off and form puddles and this kills the crop.
Crop pests such as prairie dogs, deer, insects and birds, and diseases needs further study.
We need to find out how much fertilizer to use on each crop for maximum yields.