John Anderson of Winters has gradually switched from leasing cropland to growing native grasses, sedges and forbs. A veterinarian by trade, he dabbled in growing natives for several years in the 1990s, then “started getting serious in 1996,” he says.
Anderson now grows about 60 different species of native grass, sedge and forb plants as his primary business. His native plants have been selected for habitat restoration and revegetation throughout California.
Major buyers are government agencies — at all levels — for such projects as revegetating wetland borders, beautifying and creating roadside habitat, and improving water quality with plantings along streams and other bodies of water. He’s helping others do what he’s doing, with a network of dealers to supply the seed. Creeping wild rye and purple needlegrass are the biggest sellers.
Anderson offers farm tours by appointment. For a virtual tour of the farm, and beautiful photos showing his grasses and hedgerows, see www.hedgerow
• California is a national leader in hedgerow establishment.
• Government aid is available to help establish hedgerows.
• NRCS worked with farmers to plant hedgerows in Yolo County.
Anderson is a big fan of the habitat the hedgerows create for animals, including snakes, mink and jackrabbits, on his 400-acre farm.
“We have more deer. Our combination of hedgerows and native grasses and forbs has also built bird diversity tremendously,” Anderson says. “We have more than 120 bird species on our 400 acres, everything from warblers to raptors.”
He’s helping pollinators in a big way, too. “I learned from UC’s [University of California’s] Bob Bugg to do some ‘farm-scaping’ that uses a combination of plants that offers a succession of flowering plants — so you have something blooming, so you hear buzzing and singing all year long,” Anderson says.
More hedgerows needed
According to USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, California landowners planted half of all U.S. hedgerows planted in 2009. In Yolo County, where Anderson helped hedgerows take root, NRCS worked with farmers to plant 70,000 feet of hedgerows last year. “That was 44% of the state total, and 8% of all U.S. hedgerows,” says Phil Hogan, NRCS district conservationist.
Brown is public affairs director for NRCS for California, based in Davis.
— Anita Brown
This article published in the February, 2010 edition of CALIFORNIA FARMER.