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A Short History of Agriculture in Willamette Valley Before Wine

Oregon Railroad and Navigation Company 1910

The Willamette Valley, located in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States, has a rich history of agriculture that predates its current status as a world-renowned wine region. For thousands of years before European settlement, the valley was inhabited by indigenous peoples who practiced a variety of agricultural techniques to cultivate crops like camas, wapato, and berries.

After European settlers arrived in the mid-1800s, agriculture in the valley began to change. Wheat quickly became the primary crop, with farmers taking advantage of the fertile soil and mild climate to produce high-quality wheat. In 1865, the Oregon Railroad and Navigation Company completed a rail line through the valley, making it easier to transport wheat to markets in other parts of the country. This further spurred the growth of the wheat industry in the region.

Other crops also became popular in the valley during this time. Oats, barley, and hops were all grown, and fruit orchards were established. Apples, pears, and cherries were particularly popular, and by the late 1800s, the valley was producing significant quantities of fruit.

Agriculture in Willamette Valley in the 1900s

In the early 1900s, dairy farming became an important part of the valley’s agricultural landscape. Cattle were raised for milk, butter, and cheese production, and several creameries were established in the region. The valley’s abundant water supply made it an ideal location for dairy farming, and it remained an important part of the local economy until the mid-20th century.

dairy farming in 1900s
Exploring the early days of dairy farming: A glimpse into the 1900s.

During World War II, the valley’s agricultural landscape underwent significant changes. As demand for wheat and other crops increased, farmers began to adopt mechanized farming techniques, and the use of tractors, combines, and other machinery became more widespread. The introduction of new technologies like irrigation systems also helped to improve crop yields.

Today, while the Willamette Valley is primarily known for its wine industry, agriculture remains an important part of the region’s economy. Hazelnuts, berries, and other fruits and vegetables are still grown in the valley, and many farmers continue to use sustainable and organic farming practices.

Click here to plan your Willamette Valley Wine Tour.

Want to read more? Try these books!

Start Up Your Restaurant: The Definitive Guide for Anyone Who Dreams of Running Their Own Restaurant Wild Winemaking- Easy & Adventurous Recipes Going Beyond Grapes, Including Apple Champagne, Ginger–Green Tea Sake, Key Lime–Cayenne Wine, and 142 More

References:

“Agriculture in the Willamette Valley.” Oregon Blue Book. Accessed April 18, 2023. https://sos.oregon.gov/blue-book/Pages/facts/economy/agriculture.aspx.

The Agricultural History of the Willamette Valley.” Willamette Valley Wineries Association. Accessed April 18, 2023. https://willamettewines.com/the-agricultural-history-of-the-willamette-valley/.

“Oregon’s Agricultural History.” Oregon State University Extension Service. Accessed April 18, 2023. https://extension.oregonstate.edu/community-vitality/oregons-agricultural-history.

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