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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 »

When soil carbon sequestration REALLY pays

Posted by Chad Kruger | August 15, 2013

The dog days of summer have arrived in Eastern Washington – with daily temps reaching the high 90s every day. This is the second extended stretch of heat in the region this year. Read more »

Filed under Climate Change, Organic Farming, Sustainability
9 Comments

No glyphosate-tolerant wheat found by WSU wheat breeders

Posted by Chad Kruger | August 8, 2013

I know that many residents of Washington were extremely concerned to learn about the discovery of glyphosate-tolerant wheat in an Oregon farm field this spring. WSU’s Agricultural Research Center released a news update today indicating that the glyphosate-tolerant gene was NOT discovered in any of the WSU breeding lines (commercialized or in development) nor in other tested lines developed by regional universities and companies. While it’s still not clear how this incident happened, this is certainly great news for the region. Also, I think it is really important to note how rapidly and extensively our breeding programs and administration responded to this concern to protect the interests of the state and our wheat producers.

More detail is available here.

 

Study Shows Soil-Building Benefits of Manure and Crop Rotation, so why didn’t they say so?

Posted by Andrew McGuire | June 27, 2013

Here is the secret to building soils – manure and diverse crop rotation. Underwhelmed? Researchers in Iowa (Delate et al, 2013) came to this conclusion after conducting ten years of field research. Only this wasn’t their conclusion.

“Iowa State study shows soil-building benefits of organic practices,” reads the headline of the Leopold Center press release on this research. This is misleading for two reasons. Read more »

Can one small winery make a difference?

Posted by Marcy Ostrom | May 7, 2013

At Klickitat Canyon Winery and Meadowlark Vineyard, designing a resilient farming system begins with native habitat restoration. Owners Robin Dobson and Kathleen Perillo say they will know they have succeeded when the Meadowlark returns to nest under their vines. Read more »

CSANR BIOAg funds new research and education projects

Posted by Chad Kruger | May 1, 2013

Perhaps the most important activity undertaken by CSANR each year is the selection of new BIOAg projects to fund. The goal of the BIOAg competitive grant program is to engage a broad, interdisciplinary spectrum of WSU faculty in projects that further the development, understanding, and use of biologically-intensive and/or organic principles, practices, and technologies to improve the sustainability of agriculture and food systems in Washington State. We select projects that meet one of three objectives: to stimulate new research initiatives, to augment critical gaps in existing areas of knowledge, and to move existing, game-changing research out into the real world. 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
3 Comments

A Tale of Two Tomatoes

Posted by Chuck Benbrook | February 23, 2013

A flurry of studies in recent years has reported that organic fruits and vegetables are, on average, more nutritious than conventional foods, while another flurry has reported little or no nutritional difference.  While most review articles and meta-analysis conclude that Vitamin C, phenolic acids, antioxidant, and some mineral levels are typically higher in organically grown produce, the levels of some other nutrients are often higher in conventional food (e.g., protein, Vitamin A).  Opinions vary widely on whether the typically small incremental differences in nutrients between organic and conventional foods are biologically meaningful.

Read more »

Filed under Nutrition, Organic Farming, Sustainability
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