This year CSANR sponsored registration for several WSU students to attend the Tilth Conference. We will be posting reflections written by the students over the next several weeks. Please feel free to comment and give these students your feedback.
Did you know the mission of Seattle Tilth is “to inspire and educate people to safeguard our natural resources while building an equitable and sustainable local food system”? Well, after attending my first Tilth Conference in November 2016 in Wenatchee, I can say that I was encouraged to contribute to this mission. My name is Lederson Ganan, I am a graduate student in Plant Pathology at WSU, and I wrote this blog to share some of the most interesting aspects and topics that I want to highlight from this conference. It was a great experience for me; most of the presentations I attended were so interesting, and being it my first time in Wenatchee it was a good opportunity to meet other students, as well as professionals and farmers.
Because of my interest in learning about sustainable practices that contribute to the integrated management of plant diseases, I was highly motivated to attend this conference and take a brief look at the organic and sustainable production of food in Washington State. Although I was not able to attend all the talks, I really enjoyed the sessions I attended that dealt with the association between soil management, plant nutrition, and plant diseases. I was even able to discuss sessions I missed with some folks and I found that they were interesting too.
“Healthy soils make healthy plants and happy farmers”
When talking about plant nutrition and soil health, the biological component is an important aspect to be considered, and it was a topic presented by Michael Phillips in his “biological resilience” talk. The biological component in healthy soils is built upon complex communities of organisms interacting with each other through biological networks. These interactive networks influence plant nutrition and consequently plant health. In a large scale, this interaction may influence the whole agroecosystem. Listening about the mycorrhizal association benefits in the Phillips talk led me to remember my initial steps in plant pathology research around a decade ago when I was able to test the beneficial effect of mycorrhizae for the management of plant parasitic nematodes in banana plantlets. Mycorrhizal fungi and the host plants are mutually benefited through a symbiotic interaction because the mycorrhizal fungi connection allows the plant to improve the uptake of some nutrients in the soil, while the fungus benefit by obtaining carbon from the plant. Because of the improvement in plant nutrition, the benefits of this underground association are seen above the ground, represented as higher fruit yield. Nevertheless, some aspects like the species of mycorrhizal fungal used, as well as the influence of soil fertility in this association, must be considered for success.
“How future generations could be inspired to contribute to the sustainable local food systems”
Organic compost is also a good example of a product used for improving not only the biological properties but also the physical properties of soils. This is what we saw in a major commercial cherry orchard at Wenatchee. In this orchard, compost is produced by using, among others, all fruit wastes discarded by fruit packing and storage facilities in the region, thus taking advantage of this organic matter, which is returned to the soil when the composting process is completed after a period of weeks or months. I was impressed by the large-scale production of compost in this orchard, and also because they want to increase the quantity of compost produced by using available waste from primary schools, which otherwise would be discarded in the landfill without being used. Particularly, this project idea was remarkable and inspiring for me because they want children in their schools to be encouraged to learn about adequate waste disposal, as well as local system of food production using compost, thus becoming aware of the importance of sustainable agriculture production.
Finally, I want to thank all the sponsors that made possible our attendance to this conference.