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Land alive

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
farms.com
.

Key Points

• 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.

Healthy habitat

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.

Learning curve

Four of the more important things John Anderson has learned:

A well-designed perennial hedgerow will keep weeds out.

Wildlife populations will increase dramatically, including such animals as quail, reptiles and insects.

Hedgerows don’t harbor pest insects.

Count on pollinator numbers exploding. “It’s like the willow trees are humming,” he says.

— Anita Brown

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BEES BUZZING: Anderson says his land comes alive with bees and insects buzzing. One of his goals is to offer habitat to native bee pollinators.

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AND 2 YOUNG ONES: This doe and her two youngsters are part of the wildlife that flourishes on Anderson’s native grass and hedgerow-dominated farm.

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LIFE ON THE EDGE: Anderson says he plants natural borders “just about anywhere I can,” and along canals. He used to plant mostly shrubs, but now uses a lot of native grasses.

This article published in the February, 2010 edition of CALIFORNIA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.