David Granatstein

Greening Up with Cover Crops for Yield and Sustainability

Posted by David Granatstein | February 24, 2014

I had the good fortune to attend the National Conference on Cover Crops and Soil Health in Omaha, Nebraska recently.  Soil health is in the limelight these days, with a new soil health initiative at the USDA-NRCS, a new Soil Health Partnership from the National Corn Growers Association, another soil health initiative from the Noble Foundation, and several recent meetings on soil health here in the Northwest including a session at the Washington State Horticulture meeting last December and a day-long soil quality workshop in Mt. Vernon.  Read more »

Non-antibiotic Fire Blight Control

Posted by David Granatstein | January 30, 2014

2014 is the last season in which organic growers can use antibiotics to control fire blight in apple and pear production.  Now is the time to look at non-antibiotic controls, for which there has been significant progress in the past few years.  An annotated presentation by Dr. Ken Johnson of Oregon State University outlines possible control strategies.   For more information on fire blight, please so Dr. David Granatstein’s fire blight webpage.

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How ‘bout them apples!

Posted by David Granatstein | January 30, 2014

Organic Gala apples at the WSU Sunrise OrchardWashington State apples are known worldwide.  The 2012 crop set a record at 120 million boxes (40-lb) and sales were brisk at good prices due to the freeze-out of much of the production in the eastern U.S.  In that year, Washington’s production was 70% of all apples in the US.  What is even more remarkable is that by January each year, 75-90% of all apples in storage in the US are in Washington, meaning we are by far the dominant supplier to our domestic market.  These numbers are even higher for organic apples.  Read more »

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Expanding organic on the landscape: does farm size matter?

Posted by David Granatstein | November 3, 2013

In the 1970s, I was part of the “back to the land” movement and very interested in organic farming as the solution to sustainability problems in agriculture. At that time, organic was close to invisible on the agricultural and food landscape. In spite of this, many of us strived toward “the whole world being organic.” A lot has changed since then; and a lot has not. Organic has undergone exponential growth in the marketplace, with increases in both the number of farmers and the land area involved. Organic is still a small fraction of the market, however, and many of the problems we saw decades ago still persist. Read more »

Organic farming – environmental benefit, yield cost?

Posted by David Granatstein | August 27, 2013

While most consumers may choose organic foods for their potential health characteristics (e.g., lower chance of pesticide residue and potentially greater nutrient value), these same consumers generally believe that organic farming is “good” for the environment and thus worth supporting.  But is the assumption of environmental benefit correct? And is there a cost? Let’s take a look at how the newer studies compare to older research findings. Read more »

A wrong decision for the right reason?

Posted by David Granatstein | April 24, 2013

A couple of weeks ago Dr. Jeff Ullman, formerly of WSU, gave a provocative seminar on the fate of various constituents of pharmaceuticals and personal care products in the environment.  He and his co-researchers have discovered that a wide range of chemicals from these products do not degrade when going through our bodies, animal bodies, or wastewater treatment facilities, and can sometimes be detected at very low levels in drinking water.  He focused on recent work1 trying to test the hypothesis that antibiotics fed to livestock (often in continual sub-therapeutic doses) can be excreted by the animal, remain biologically active, exert selection pressure on human pathogens that might be present in the environment outside the animal, lead to the development of antibiotic resistance by these pathogens, and then be ingested by another animal.  Ultimately, their careful step-by-step study did show it was possible for this to occur.  However, they found that not all antibiotics act the same.  Cefoxitin and florfenicol, for example, retained their bactericidal activity and thus could select for resistance, while tetracycline and ciprofloxacin were almost completed deactivated within 24 hours of contact with the soil.  They conclude that efforts to control antibiotic contamination might best be focused on those compounds that retain their biological activity in soil since these are the ones that could exert a selective pressure for resistance in the environment.  Read more »

Treating Tree Fever

Posted by David Granatstein | April 2, 2013
A block of apple trees infected with fire blight (photo courtesy of Tim Smith)

A block of apple trees infected with fire blight (photo courtesy of Tim Smith)

Organic tree fruit growers face a dilemma. The disease fire blight, caused by the bacterium Erwinia amylovora, can infect apple and pear trees primarily through their blossoms during the flowering period when the bacteria are present and the weather conditions are right.  It is a disease native to North America that has spread to other continents as well.  Currently, there is no available diagnostic tool to determine the presence of the bacteria, although a molecular method called LAMP is under development.  As a result, growers rely on disease models to inform their management decisions.  In Washington, the COUGARBLIGHT model developed by Tim Smith at WSU Extension is the standard tool used.  The most common and effective treatment for fire blight in the state is the antibiotic oxytetracycline.  When timed properly, it kills the bacteria in the blossoms before they are able to infect the tree.  Once infected, the only response is pruners or chainsaws, as no material can control the bacteria inside the tree.  And depending on cultivar, tree age, vigor, and other factors, fire blight can kill limbs, trees and entire orchard blocks.  It is a disease to take seriously.  Unlike human use of antibiotics, where we wait until we are sick (infected) and then take the medicine to cure, treatment of fire blight is primarily preventative and based on probability of infection. Read more »

Filed under Organic Farming, Toxics
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The importance of planetary “skin care” for our soils

Posted by David Granatstein | February 28, 2013

Soil is often called the “living skin” of planet Earth; an essential but fragile part of the biosphere.  Attention to soil health (or soil quality) has waxed and waned over the years, but it appears to be making a comeback.  In the past few months I have been to two exceptional meetings on soil health – one in Moses Lake (>200 attendees) and one near Spokane (>100 attendees).  Growers and crop consultants made up the largest share of the audience, mostly larger commercial growers.  In my 25 years of working on soil quality, I have never experienced the level of excitement I saw and the depth of actual change on the case study farms presented.  Ideas like the soil food web, that sometimes can be vague and hard to translate to action, were illustrated in actual practices on the ground that are improving the soil and profitability at the same time.  Cover crops played a big role in the presentations.  These appear to be underused here in Washington relative to some other parts of the country.  To me, this spells opportunity. Read more »

Making “black and white” out of a “shades of gray” world

Posted by David Granatstein | October 25, 2012

I had the opportunity to attend the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting for a day last week.  The day was devoted to the Crops Subcommittee which is charged with looking at all the production inputs to be allowed or prohibited in organic agriculture.  This is a daunting job, and board members (who are volunteers) must review volumes of information on numerous materials for each meeting.  Most members do not have a technical background related to the material or topic they are voting on, so they rely on prepared documents, testimony, their own investigation, and discussions among board members.  They are each trying to do their own “sustainability” analysis in the context of the organic rule (and enabling legislation) as well as the stakeholders they represent.  Read more »

Another take on achieving sustainability

Posted by David Granatstein | October 4, 2012

As several CSANR faculty members have agreed to do, including Andy McGuire, I am responding to the question posed by Center Director Chad Kruger on September 18: Achieving farm and food system sustainability: incremental vs. transformational pathways?

First of all, my own bias is that we are not likely to achieve farm and food system sustainability. This implies that there is a line that is crossed that moves one from “unsustainable” to “sustainable.” Since the world is constantly changing, what we consider sustainable today may not be valid at the end of a five- or ten-year period over which we pursue that goal. I would rephrase the question to begin: improving (rather than achieving) farm and food system sustainability. Read more »

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Contact David Granatstein

Email: granats@wsu.edu