By SEAN ELLIS
ONTARIO, Ore. -- A tight water year in the region could turn a presentation on water efficiency into the highlight of the Malheur County experiment station's annual Summer Farm Festival and Field Day.
The July 10 field day will be held at the Oregon State University research station near Ontario and will include a presentation that covers irrigation management and planning, the use of soil moisture sensors and the efficiency of different irrigation systems.
Research station director Clint Shock expects there to be keen interest in that presentation because 2013 is shaping up to be a scarce water year.
Low snowpack levels combined with scant precipitation -- many parts of that region have received about 2 inches less rainfall than normal since March 1 -- have resulted in many area irrigation districts telling customers to expect significantly less water.
"Water efficiency is going to be a very important thing this year," Shock said. "If the situation continues, everything about irrigation scheduling and all of those other aspects of water efficiency are going to be very important."
The field day shows local farmers the latest research being conducted at the station and attracts about 250 people.
Idaho Water Users Association Executive Director Norm Semanko will update people on the Food and Drug Administration's proposed new food safety rules relating to allowable bacteria levels in agricultural water.
Shock said there is major concern among onion farmers in the region about the proposed rules and he hopes the presentation spurs them to action.
"Growers may be upset and concerned about it but they need to be taking vigorous action," he said. "They have to move fast and furious...."
OSU weed scientist Joel Felix will discuss the results of the research station's sweet potato trials, which are entering their third year and are looking at different irrigation techniques and whether the commodity can be grown economically in the area.
The first year of the trials was unusually cool and yields were disappointing, Felix said. But last year's weather was much hotter and yields averaged between 20-35 tons per acre, which is equivalent to what growers in California achieve, he said.
"I'm confident that with the weather we're having now, we will be in the same range of yields again this year," he said. "We think that sweet potatoes can be grown here economically."
The research station is in the heart of the nation's largest onion growing region and the field day always includes a presentation on the latest onion research. Thrips control, preventing the spread of the iris yellow spot virus and onions grown from sets and transplants will be addressed this year.
The latest research on weed control in potatoes, onions and sugar beets will also be covered.
A youth tour that teaches children about how technology and science is used to grow their food was added to the event last year and will continue in 2013.
"It's important that all parts of the community learn about and understand agriculture," Shock said.