Organic Cropping Research – 2004 Annual Report

The Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources (CSANR) at Washington State University has received special grant funding from USDA-CSREES to conduct the Organic Cropping Research in the Northwest program. This effort, a part of our larger BIOAg initiative (Biologically Intensive and Organic Agriculture), is providing key research support for the expanding organic sector on high priority issues in organic crop production. The demand for research support for organic farming projects far outstrips the available funding from this and other sources.

The organic food sector in Washington State is estimated at over $200 million in annual value. Major elements include tree fruit production and packing, processed vegetables, herbs, direct market operations, grains, and livestock. With over 30,000 acres under certified organic management, the impact on agriculture is considerably wider as many growers utilize practices launched on their organic acres on their conventional fields as well.

In 2004, the CSREES special grant on Organic Cropping Research for the Northwest provided $208,943 to CSANR for research projects. The main objectives were organic seed protection and production, understory management in tree and vine crops, organic weed control, and statistics on the organic sector. Progress reports from the 10 projects funded by this grant during 2004 are included in this report. The funding has provided opportunities for 5 graduate students at WSU to be involved in the research, an important benefit from this investment.

Progress Summary

Objective 1. Organic Seed.

Organic seed treatment products were tested to evaluate their efficacy in protecting peas from damping-off and root disease and protecting watermelon from soilborne pathogens. Phostrol treatments in peas at WSU Mt Vernon REC showed the best results in yield and decreased incidence of root rot, while watermelon treatments at WSU Vancouver REU showed no significant differences. Working closely with farmers, the winter wheat breeding program at WSU Pullman is evaluating, identifying, and developing advanced and heirloom wheat lines that are especially suitable for organic systems. At WSU Vancouver REU, 40 icebox watermelon and 20 winter lettuce varieties have been found to be well suited for organic production in western Washington.

Objective 2. Pest Control.

Research on organic transition rotations for northwestern Washington was conducted at WSU Mt. Vernon. Preliminary results indicate that rye/buckwheat and wheat/pea cover crops were the most effective in regards to weed control. Research at WSU Puyallup REC on cover crops for weed management in organic and transition systems suggests that relay-planted cover crops can be a viable option for organic growers for some crops and that rye-vetch blends and red clover are most effective at weed control. Degradable mulches were tested in an organic vegetable system at WSU Vancouver REU, and results showed that some new products may be effective and affordable alternatives to black plastic mulch. Research at WSU Pullman on weed management in organic dry land spring wheat and peas showed that 5 rotary hoe operations per season were most effective in weed control, with no evidence of reduced pea or wheat stands or significant differences in crop yields. Analysis of 70 wheat cultivars indicates that yield of heirloom cultivars may be reduced by rotary hoe operation. Three biologically derived nematicides were tested in established apple orchards in Washington. These newly developed organic nematicides have the potential to decrease plant parasitic nematodes in organic apple orchards without affecting beneficial microorganisms in the soil.

Objective 3. Understory Management in Woody Perennial Crops.

In research of understory management at WSU Wenatchee TFREC, a new mechanical cultivator was shown to be as effective as other mechanical cultivators at lower cost. White clover and colonial bent grass were the most effective living mulches, while wood chip mulch treated with nematodes enhanced codling moth larvae mortality.

Objective 4. Economic Trends.

A profile of organic production in Washington State was produced for 2004. A profile for Oregon State will be completed in early 2005.

Specific Projects in 2004

  1. Cover crops for weed management in organic and transition systems.
  2. Weed management in organic dryland spring wheat.
  3. Economic trends in organic production and marketing.
  4. Understory management in organic tree fruits and other woody perennials.
  5. Organic seed treatments.
  6. Evaluating and developing wheat varieties for organic systems.
  7. Evaluating vegetable varieties for organic systems.
  8. Alternatives to plastic mulch for organic vegetable production.
  9. Organic transition rotations for Northwestern Washington.
  10. Post-plant management of nematodes in apple orchards in Washington.