By Sophie Frank

Each summer CFAC partners with Western Montana farmers to host monthly, production-oriented Farmer Field Days. Field Days are geared towards beginning farmers and ranchers, ranging from first-year farm interns, to farmers with 10 growing seasons under their belts, to community members just beginning to scheme their first farm venture. It’s a fun way to dive into agricultural topics and see a variety of farming operations while meeting and chatting with other farmers throughout the region.

Our July Field Day was hosted by Julie Pavlock at Foothill Farm in St. Ignatius, Montana. Foothill Farm recently updated their versatile irrigation system through a partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) – a branch of the USDA that helps farmers and ranchers through financial and technical assistance to implement systems that are beneficial in terms of both conservation and agriculture. Austin Allen, an NRCS Soil Conservation Technician who helped plan and install the new irrigation at Foothill, co-hosted the Field Day and talked through some of the more technical aspects of the systems.

Wheel line demo

Julie Pavlock demonstrates the wheel line, used for irrigating the hay fields at Foothill Farm in St. Ignatius.

Foothill Farm is located on the Flathead Indian Reservation, which is home to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes and consists of over 1.2 million acres of land. Water used for agriculture in this region is accessed through the century-old Flathead Indian Irrigation Project, comprised of dams, reservoirs, and canals that provide water to over 125,000 agricultural fields in the Mission Valley. Run until 2010 by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project is now jointly managed by the Flathead Joint Board of Control and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes as a coalition titled the Cooperative Management Entity (CME). As water becomes an ever more critical issue in the American West, such collaborations in water management are critical to the future of local agriculture and community resilience.

Foothill Farm is a certified organic, multi-generational family farm in the Mission Valley focusing on fresh vegetables for wholesale, seed garlic, and grass-fed beef. There are 70 acres, which include hayfields, pasture, 3 hoop houses, a propagation greenhouse, and 6 acres of vegetables. The farm also hosts chickens, milk cows, workhorses, and honey bees.

This wide diversity of production necessitates a variety of irrigation systems throughout the property, catered to the particular needs of each field. The vegetable operation uses a combination of hand line and drip irrigation, each field set for the appropriate timing and water quantity for the particular crops being grown. The hay fields utilize a mixture of wheel line and hand line, that is slowly moved throughout the acreage. Because the hay fields are also used as pasture, the timing of the irrigation system is essential to maintaining soil health. For example, a field would not be watered immediately before being used to pasture cattle in order to avoid erosion.

Foothill Farm serves as an example of both the diversity of irrigation systems within a particular irrigation district and a successful partnership with the NRCS in planning these systems.


Our next Field Day will be on August 15 at Fresh Roots Farm in Polson. Farmer Karl Sutton will talk about producing organic vegetable seed crops and how they have integrated seed production into their crop mix so that they have products to sell outside of the growing season. This field day is co-sponsored by the Organic Seed Alliance.

Our field days are geared toward people who are just at the beginning of their farm exploration—farm hands, interns, folks thinking about starting a farm in the near future, and those who are currently in the startup process. Of course, established farmers and ranchers are welcome too!

hand line irrigation

Austin Allen and Julie Pavlock explain the hand line irrigation system utilized in the vegetable fields at their farm in St. Ignatius.

For more information and to register for future Field Days, visit the Farm Link Events Page.