Capital Press | Seed and Row Crop Capital Press Sun, 18 Feb 2018 22:08:05 -0500 en Capital Press | Seed and Row Crop Perennial grain offers westside farmers options Thu, 9 Mar 2017 10:26:09 -0500 Margarett Waterbury MOUNT VERNON, Wash. — Colin Curwen-McAdams is a Ph.D. candidate working under Stephen Jones at Washington State University.

He’s spent the last several years working on breeding projects that attempt to create a perennial grain crop by making crosses between wheat and wheatgrass.

Just don’t call it perennial wheat.

“We’re not calling it perennial wheat,” Curwen-McAdams laughs. “When I say that, people think they know what I’m talking about. Perennial wheat, this magical crop of wheat that grows back, like a fairy tale. Perennial wheat is a wonderful idea. But there’s no alignment between that and what I’m actually working with.”

The new crop is called Tritipyrum, a fusion of the scientific names of its parents, Triticum (wheat) and Thinopyrum (wheatgrass). Its goal is to meet the needs of Western Washington and Oregon farmers in need of a grain for their rotational program.

“Here in the Skagit Valley, there are a lot of high-value crops in rotation, and nobody is primarily a grain farmer,” Curwen-McAdams says. “People here don’t really want to grow wheat. What they want is a grain in their rotation to add organic matter, break up soil tilth after heavy cultivation, and reduce the amount of tillage in years they’re not growing heavy-till crops. And, we want it to have utility as a grain crop as well as a feed and forage crop for livestock.”

The new crosses have been made primarily at Washington State University’s Mount Vernon Research and Extension Center, and selection rounds have prioritized regional adaptation. The team is currently working with numerous lines from stable crosses of bread wheat and Thinopyrum, but developing a truly robust perennial remains elusive.

“It’s still a challenge to get something a farmer can really count on in the field, especially in cold winters like this one,” Curwen-McAdams says.

Researchers have been trying for about 100 years to breed perennial grain crops by hybridizing wheat with perennial relatives.

“The fact that we’re not surrounded by them tells you how difficult that is,” Cur-wen-McAdams says.

Yet the dream of a hardy, multipurpose perennial grain crop remains tantalizing for researchers and west-of-the-Cascades growers.

Support from buyers such as brewers, maltsters and bakers has also buoyed the project.

“There are a lot of people interested in the flavor and the story. They want the food they’re producing to be reflective of agricultural and environmental stewardship,” he says.

For example, one line of Tritipyrum has a blue-green seed color.

“In the commodity system wheat has to be red or white, so you’re already out of luck,” says Curwen-McAdams. “But if we can imagine that as an advantage, something that makes it unique and interesting, it can actually help differentiate the crop for regional markets. We’re looking at its potential for malting now.”

Seattle-based Grand Central Bakery has also expressed interest in working with perennial grains.

By involving multiple stakeholders, Curwen-McAdams hopes to cultivate regional ownership of the project.

“It’s exciting to bring these people together from the beginning,” he says. “Otherwise you get one person, like me, making some choices, and then five years later, realizing they made some wrong choices. Collaborating with people with diverse skills and perspectives increases our chances of success.”

Cover crops improve soil health Thu, 9 Mar 2017 10:23:05 -0500 Jan Jackson When you talk to Don Wirth of Saddle Butte Seeds near Shedd, Ore., it doesn’t take long to hear the frustration he has with the 90 percent of the growers who underestimate the value of cover crops.

Talking to the countless number of folks he meets during the 30-plus trade shows and field days he attends a year, Wirth spends most of his time trying to get the message across how cover crops can end up being more profitable than the “cash” crop itself.

Just returned from a conference in the Midwest, he spoke of his frustration.

“My mission is to educate,” Wirth said. “Whether your cover crop is annual ryegrass, crimson clover, kale, peas, radish, vetch or any of the cover crop mixes, your cash crop yields are going to go up.”

Cover crops are about soil health, he said.

“When Dr. Lloyd Murdoch, extension soils specialist from the University of Kentucky spoke at the Oregon Ryegrass Growers meeting in Albany recently, we were both frustrated to see first-hand what farmers don’t know,” he said.

Wirth, who has been in the seed business in the Midwest and in Oregon for more than 30 years, got his start on the farm his family still runs. His family’s involvement in his family-owned and -operated Saddle Butte Seed Co., frees up Wirth to take his message on the road across the nation.

He works with customers from Nevada to Virginia. His sales associates are all farmers in Illinois, Minnesota and Oregon. They assist customers anywhere in the world, including the U.S., Canada and Europe.

“That’s one of the things that gives Saddle Butte a difference,” Wirth said.

Ron Althoff has a degree in agronomy and joined Saddle Butte in 2002 to pursue his passion of improving the quality of soil and water while reducing erosion.

Brian Wieland, who graduated from Illinois State University with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture production, was introduced to cover crops in his quest for better roots and healthier soils.

T.J. Kartes, from Blooming Prairie, Minn., got hooked on cover crops when he saw the difference they made on his family farm, Wirth said.

“We don’t just educate growers about the need for cover crops but help them get started,” he said. “Our staff has the knowledge and training to do that.”

Wirth recommends at least a no-till and cover crop system like one that has resulted in real changes for Ralph “Junior” Upton in Springerton, Ill.

“The effect of Upton’s improved soil has been dramatic,” Wirth said. “Before the change, corn yields were as low as 105 to 110 bushels per acre and after he started his no-till cover crop program, his yields have risen to well more than 180-200 bushels an acre.”

Upton also estimates that no-till farming saves him $10 to $15 per acre, primarily thanks to smaller equipment, fewer trips across the field and less fuel burned in the process, Wirth said.

“Cover crops are about soil health and soil health is about profits,” he said.

For more information, visit

Sweet potatoes run in grower’s family Thu, 9 Mar 2017 10:17:02 -0500 JULIA HOLLISTER Matt Alvernaz knows sweet potatoes, which he calls “nature’s superfood.”

“I am a fourth-generation sweet potato farmer,” he said. “My grandfather was ‘Sweet Potato Joe Alvernaz,’ one of the pioneers in the California sweet potato industry.”

Growing up, Alvernaz spent his summer days weeding sweet potato fields on the farm his parents and grandparents owned near Livingston, a town in Merced County.

“Then the weekends I would spend working on my grandparents’ dairy,” he said.

In high school he was involved in FFA, showing dairy cattle. Alvernaz judged dairy at Modesto Junior College and at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., where he received a bachelor of science degree.

He is now the farm manager of his parents’ sweet potato operation in addition to farming his own 300 acres. His wife, Sarah, is the sales and general manager of a grower-owned company, the California Sweet Potato Growers shipper-packer.

The company packs and ships 300,000 cartons of sweet potatoes and yams each year.

Sweet potatoes are difficult and expensive to raise. They require sandy soil and warm, dry weather and clean water, he said. “They are very labor-intensive and require a large capital investment year after year.”

Each acre demands between 100 and 120 man-hours, and that does not include packing labor, he said. 

Each year, about 20,000 to 22,000 acres are planted to sweet potatoes in California. Ninety-five percent are grown in Merced and Stanislaus counties.

Several varieties of sweet potatoes are available but four main color categories are grown in California: Jewel (orange skin and flesh), Red (red skin and orange flesh), Sweets (yellow skin and flesh) and Oriental (purple skin and white flesh).

The main pest concerns are nematodes, army worms, wire worms, rodents, gophers and squirrels, he said.

Alvernaz said several looming challenges face California sweet potato growers.

“Water and labor are our main concerns,” he said. “Without clean surface water the roots will not produce nor store the way we need them to.”

Salinity in ground water is another concern and therefore not the favored irrigation source, he said.

Competition originates across the continental U.S.

“The Southern growing regions in the United States can be the biggest competition for fresh retail, as they are able to produce sweet potatoes at a fraction of the cost of California,” he said. “Fortunately our soil, water and climate provide us with quality roots to maintain our market share.”

The best news coming from the fields is the health benefits of the colorful globes, he said.

“From a marketing perspective sweet potatoes are enjoying their time in the spotlight,” Alvernaz said. “They really are one of nature’s superfoods, being one of the most nutrient-dense vegetables available.”

Grower ‘spills the beans’ about foreign competition Thu, 9 Mar 2017 10:14:58 -0500 JULIA HOLLISTER SACRAMENTO — By the time Ron Oneto was 4 years old he was sure he wanted to stay on the farm.

“I was born and raised in Stockton,” he said. “My grandparents lived in the orchard. When I’d hear my uncle coming into their yard with a tractor, I would go running towards him. He’d stop, I’d climb on, and he’d let me finish driving the tractor into the yard.”

Today, Oneto and his brother farm 2,200 acres of dry beans, cherries, walnuts, wine grapes, processing and fresh market tomatoes, silage and grain corn and wheat.

He is also chairman of the California Dry Bean Advisory Board.

“Our varieties we grow are Green Baby Lima, Yellow beans, White, Light, and Dark Kidneys,” he said. “Our total acres remains around 500. Each year there are different acres of each, depending on field sizes.”

Oneto said about 44,000 acres are planted to beans each year in California.

According to Nathan Sano, manager of the California Bean Advisory Board, lygus and thrips are the two worst pests for beans in California.

“Thrips are a small insect that usually attacks young plants, stunting their growth,” he said. “Lygus are more known for their feeding on the bean seed preventing growth or puncture damage to the seed, making the bean unmarketable.”

In spite of the pests, beans are a relatively easy crop to grow, as long as it’s dry during harvest time. Wet beans are hard to dry, and they can be damaged if are harvested while moist.

Oneto said the biggest challenge facing California bean growers is the Japanese market.

“They (Japan) account for about 70 percent of the Baby Lima market,” he said. “They have been sourcing Baby Limas from Myanmar at a cheaper price point. The California industry is working quite hard at trying to keep market share in Japan.”

There is also a lot of competition from foreign imports, he said.

Beans can be stored for a long time, too, which allows brokers and handlers to choose where they buy beans.

Beyond Japan, trade in general remains a challenge, he said.

“Trade is a big topic currently, especially since the November election,” Oneto said. “President Trump has said he wants to relook at all trade agreements and I agree. When you hear about how these agreements are put together, U.S. agriculture gets the short end.”

Entry into the U.S. market for foreign crops is often offered as a quid pro quo in trade deals, he said.

“Everyone wants U.S. technology, but in return we must take ‘food’ items from those countries,” he said. “So who suffers? The U.S. farmer.

“It’s not a level playing field. Maybe with the new administration we can see some improvement for U.S. agriculture.”

Diversified farmer faces variety of challenges Thu, 9 Mar 2017 10:10:58 -0500 Brenna Wiegand With 140 acres near Salem, Ore., Don Mantie says his farm is one of the smallest around.

He and son, Kurt, grow wheat, grass seed, blueberries, pea seed and maintain old and new hazelnut orchards. It’s a confusing time that calls for resourcefulness, he said.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Mantie said. “Blueberries have tanked due to low prices and higher labor. The 38-year-old hazelnut orchard has blight and I’ve been up cutting the blight out of it; it’s a tedious and time-consuming job. You can spray all you want but it’s still taking over. I suspect in another 5 to 7 years they’ll be gone.”

Mantie said he is looking forward to the fruits of a cold winter. Unlike the Portland area with lots of snow, which acts more like insulation for pests, his area had less than a half-inch of the white stuff.

“I’m glad we got a cold winter and I am looking forward to it killing some slugs and bugs,” he said.

Mantie retired from Farm Credit Service in 2007, where he worked more than 30 years, spending the last 15 as a farm real estate appraiser.

“That was fun,” he said. “I finally let my appraisal certificate go this year. I hated to because it’s like getting a master’s degree, or even more like a doctorate.”

While working full-time Mantie farmed a couple hundred acres.

“I had a lot of nights on the tractor until 1 o’clock in the morning and then got up and went to work,” Mantie said. “The best thing was when I got a tractor with a cab on it.”

Mantie never met his grandparents; they both died in a flu epidemic when his father was 11. His great-grandparents started the farm and during that time donated the land for a local church cemetery. Deeds go clear back to the land claim.

Meanwhile, the small family farm is becoming outnumbered by larger operations.

“When I was a kid everybody used to have a few cows, pigs and chickens; we used to send milk to the creamery in Mount Angel,” he said. “Farms have generally gotten bigger. … I’m about as small as it gets. You’ve got to have enough acres to afford some of the specialized machinery; the only reason I do is because I was working and did not rely on the farm for a living.”

Mantie strives to do everything he can with machinery; blueberry picking and pruning is a challenge due to labor costs.

“You try not to prune as heavy and not spend as much but sometimes that doesn’t work,” said Mantie, who plans to farm until he is no longer able.

“It’s just part of me,” he said. “A lot of people who retire end up sitting around; they don’t last long. You’ve got to keep busy and there’s always something that needs to be done on the farm.

“It’s not all muscle and brawn,” he added. “If you want to get much done you’ve got to be inventive and you’ve got to be efficient because there’s not a lot of profit in a lot of things. You also hope the weather is with you.”

Father, sons mesh their talents on farm Thu, 9 Mar 2017 10:24:07 -0500 Brenna Wiegand Duane Eder considers himself a first-generation farmer in a land of third- and fourth-generation farmers. He and his brothers started farming in 1973.

“We started out with basically nothing and just built it up,” Eder said. “We did a lot of custom work — combining, trucking, spraying, corn picking — and that gave a cash flow to get the farm started.”

The four brothers have since split into their own farms but still work together in many ways.

Duane and sons Scott and Brian farm about 700 acres in the Silverton, Ore., area as Eder Brothers. They have a diversified rotation.

Two-thirds of the property is in rye grass and tall fescue seed. These crops are part of a steady rotation of onions, green beans, cauliflower, cucumbers for seed, green peas and hazelnuts.

“If you grow only one crop and that thing goes south for a while you have all your eggs in one basket,” he said, “and good rotation helps us with a lot of things; weed and disease control, fertility, keeping good organic matter in the soil.”

For some crops such as grass seed, with the roots and the sod and the straw a lot of material goes back into the soil, he said.

Other crops, such as onions, “you take a lot of tonnage off but there’s not much that goes back in the soil. And you do cover crops, usually oats, in winter to hold the soil down and put back in also.”

Row-cropping takes more equipment than less diversified operations but the farm’s location makes it worthwhile.

“We’re kind of a unique area,” Eder said. “We have no rocks on the valley floor where we farm; the soil is mostly flat. We have Willamette and Amity soils, which drain well and grow good crops. We have surface water out of the Pudding River and wells to water with.”

Eder and his sons have established a nice mesh of talents and the farm’s running well, he said.

Brian takes care of the crew and most of the crops. Duane grows the cauliflower, onions, does the spraying and oversees the office. Scott manages the shop, fertilizing and some of the planting.

“It all overlaps a little bit and we can do each other’s jobs somewhat; it’s a good fit,” Duane Eder said. “The boys do a good job and we really learn from each other. They’re not afraid to take on projects or take over when I’m not there.”

With each year “the boys,” all in their early 30s, assume more responsibility and call less and less when Dad’s away. Duane looks forward to a role of just being around to help out where needed.

“If I’m away, I don’t have to worry,” he said. “The boys are around, and it’s their turn.”

Farming is a good way of life, but there’s no escaping the long hours.

“I’ve always enjoyed it but it’s tough when you get married and have a family because it’s hard on the family, too,” he said. “It’s a good way of life but to get anywhere you’ve got to put in the hours.”

Instagram helps drive farm’s sales Thu, 9 Mar 2017 10:21:48 -0500 Margarett Waterbury BORING, Ore. — Social media doesn’t come naturally to most farmers. But farms — especially farms that depend on direct sales to restaurants and consumers — might be uniquely poised to benefit from social platforms such as Instagram.

After working for established farms in Vermont and Oregon, Dan Sullivan, 31, started Black Locust Farm in 2015. Located in Boring, Ore., the farm is part of the Headwaters Farm Incubator Program. Administered by the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District, the program is designed to help early-career farmers launch new ventures.

Black Locust Farm leases 2 acres at Headwaters to grow specialty vegetable row crops marketed exclusively to restaurants in the Portland metropolitan area. Major crops include greens, chicories, alliums, edible flowers and root vegetables.

During its first two years, the farm has relied heavily on social media, specifically Instagram, for marketing. Sullivan uses the social photo-sharing app to showcase new crops, give updates about what’s happening on the farm, and interact with the farm’s restaurant customers.

One of Black Locust Farm’s clients is Sarah Minnick, co-owner and chef at Portland restaurant Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty. She says Instagram has been the single most impactful component of her marketing strategy. “As far as advertising goes, it has made pretty much the only difference in business for us. Instagram can be very genuine,” says Minnick.

Instagram lets farmers such as Sullivan piggyback on their clients’ marketing efforts. When chefs like Minnick tag their farmer suppliers in photos, their followers can see it — and, critically, chefs follow one another.

“A lot of my customers who have very serious followings are avid social media users,” Sullivan says. “When they post my veggies, they tag my name, and through them I’ve gained a lot of followers.”

“I see many farms using social media to target not their customers, but other farmers,” Sullivan explains. “Instead, I’m using it as an advertising channel, a way to capitalize on my customers and my relationship with those customers.”

Sullivan acknowledges that social media and farming aren’t always completely compatible. “As a farmer, I’m treading a line between modern society and something a little less tangible. I try to play to that a little bit — I don’t want to over-post. I don’t like to use mine for anything other than farming, I’m not into sharing the rest of my life that way.”

Yet he maintains that Instagram’s impact on his business has been a positive one, and says he’s planning to do more in the years to come.

Sullivan’s advice to other farmers interested in incorporating social media into their marketing program focuses on collaboration. “Reach out to your customers,” he says. “That’s a great place to start, because they’re going to like your photos.”

And a little bit of momentum builds fast. “Once I started getting 50 likes, soon I was getting 200. Farms I started following a couple of years ago with a few hundred likes, now they have a few thousand. It’s a wicked time suck, but it’s worth it.”

OSU looks to Ecampus to train future agronomists Thu, 9 Mar 2017 10:20:56 -0500 Brett Tallman CORVALLIS, Ore. — Tom Chastain, a professor of seed crop physiology and ecology at Oregon State University, has taught seed production every spring since 1992.

But in the fall term, Chastain taught the course, Crop 450, online for the first time.

“It was a new venture for me,” Chastain said. “I like this kind of thing, but I needed help on lecturing to a camera as opposed to a room full of people. And figuring out how I was going to maintain contact with students, answering questions and facilitating discussions online.”

OSU’s Crop and Soil Science Department doesn’t have an online degree program yet, but Chastain estimates that’s only about 18 months off. After a “very favorable” external review in November, Chastain said they are looking to add courses in plant genetics, soil fertility, and several others to the two classes the department offers online now.

“The bulk of the growth at OSU in the last few years has been in online courses,” Chastain said. “My feeling is, once we have some more classes online, we’ll have a big bump in department enrollment.”

The decision to offer a crop and soil science degree online is OSU’s answer to a steady decline in enrollment in traditional crop and soil science classes at OSU, as well as in similar programs around the country.

“The agronomy program is not big,” Chastain said. “We’ve had some enrollment issues, but there are good job opportunities throughout the country. People are just not taking advantage of those opportunities.”

Sixty students are now enrolled in degree programs in Chastain’s department. Chastain said Crop 450, which has drawn an average of 20 students over the last five years in traditional classrooms, had 13 Ecampus students for the same class online. Of the 13, five were from Oregon. The rest were from Iowa, Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Utah, South Dakota and even Tasmania.

“A lot of them are place-bound people,” Chastain said. “They have jobs or families. For whatever reason they can’t take time off to come to Corvallis. My student from Tasmania is already working as an agronomist and now wants a formal education.”

By broadening its reach as a department, Chastain said OSU can reach those place-bound students and begin training more people to work in the field.

Chastain is quick to say he’s not the first professor in his department to take advantage of online classes. Sabry Elias, an associate professor of seed science and technology, saw the same problems in 2010.

“Enrollment for my class wasn’t so big,” he said. “I talked with the head of my department and was able to transfer my curriculum online.”

Seed science and technology is the only class Elias teaches online and, while Elias admitted online classes can’t replace the interactions in a traditional classroom, he is passionate about what he is teaching.

“There is a challenge we’re trying to solve,” he said. “The number of working seed scientists is decreasing to an alarming degree.”

Like Chastain’s online students, the students signing up for Elias’ class are spread across the country and around the world.

“About half of my students now are working professionals,” he said. “They are coming from Kentucky, New York, Hawaii and even Thailand. By offering courses online, we’re able to get more students interested.”

Oregon grower sees opportunity in hemp Thu, 9 Mar 2017 10:19:09 -0500 Gail Oberst Salem — More than 100 farmers in Oregon are expected to grow or process one of the Northwest’s newest cash crops next year, and it’s not marijuana.

About 1,300 acres of industrial hemp are planned this year, according to Lindsay B. Eng, director of Oregon Department of Agriculture’s hemp certification program. Thirteen growers signed up for licenses in 2015, the program’s first year.

Hemp is a variety of Cannabis sativa, but shares none of the psychotropic characteristics of Oregon’s newly legalized marijuana. Hemp has long been used as animal bedding, fiber for clothing, and oils for foods, remedies and lotions. It won’t get you high, but even so, hemp has long been lumped with marijuana, requiring complicated federal approval and licensing to grow it. Hemp growers have lobbied to distance the crop from marijuana.

Jerry Norton of Salem, now in his third year as a hemp seed grower and processor, said the new industry has gotten a recent boost from hemp oil’s rise in popularity. He recently attended a cannabis conference where hemp was the new star.

“CBD is all they talked about. For health benefits, it’s the flavor of the month,” said Norton. CBD is cannibidiol, the main ingredient in hemp oil. Claims that hemp oil can improve mood, sleep, appetite, hormone regulation and immune response and relieve pain have prompted producers to include it in products ranging from soap to craft beer, available at your corner grocery store. Demand is rising but U.S. growers are still scarce. Norton is among those who hope to change that.

Industrial hemp does have trace amounts of THC, tetrahydrocannabinol, the substance that produces the “high” in marijuana. But industrial hemp plants for public consumption by law must contain .3 percent or less THC. Marijuana’s THC content can range from 6 percent to 25 percent THC.

The surge in demand for hemp products is a boon for growers, Norton said. With one of the few plant and seed processing cooperatives in the area, his Salem company, American Hemp Seed Genetics, is reaching out to attract more growers. Norton and his company have grown more than 100 acres of hemp for seed, scattered around the mid-Willamette Valley.

The crop is fast-growing and lucrative, Norton said. In 90 days, hemp grows to 6 or 7 feet in the Willamette Valley’s clay soils. Almost any crop that needs a rotation can be rotated with hemp, Eng said.

But although the crop promises to be lucrative, challenges remain for this newcomer. Money is foremost. Equipment specific to hemp harvesting, seed research, licenses and certification is expensive and hard to find, Norton said. Eng suggested that current grass seed and grain farmers may have a leg up if they own combines and related equipment.

And cross-pollination, although its threat is diminishing, continues to worry marijuana growers. If the relatives cross-pollinate, hemp degrades THC levels in marijuana. Solutions have included temporary hemp bans and improved rules, but Norton said that seed research, GPS tracking by ODA, and cooperation among farmers will hopefully resolve problems.

Norton helped establish the Oregon Hemp Growers Association, a group of farmers that includes Cliff Thompson, the Independent Party’s nominee for Oregon governor in 2016.

Norton’s first two years in the business were spent researching and developing reliable and stable seed not susceptible to cross-pollination. With reliable seed in hand, he expects this year to be a profitable one.

Yields per acre can vary, according to federal reports. Farmers in Canada, one of 30 countries that have long produced hemp, averaged about 700 pounds of grain per acre, yielding 50 gallons of oil and 530 pounds of meal. The average amount of straw grown per acre was 5,300 pounds, converting to about 1,300 pounds of fiber.

For information on how to apply for permits and certification, visit the ODA’s website,, call 503-986-4620, or email

Norton also invites would-be growers to visit his processing facility by calling him at 971-388-4392.

Network aims to link plant breeders, buyers Thu, 9 Mar 2017 10:18:19 -0500 Margarett Waterbury Oregon State University agricultural researcher Lane Selman wants to see more chefs and produce buyers step out of the kitchen and onto the farm.

During the course of her career, Selman observed that seed breeders’ decisions directly impact growers, marketers and buyers. Yet few of those downstream stakeholders knew about current breeding projects, and fewer still understood the enormous impact seed breeding has on the landscape of the agricultural and food system.

Would connecting breeders with downstream crop consumers result in better, more useful plant breeding projects? she wondered.

She held a tasting event in Portland, and invited several local chefs to evaluate sweet peppers from a current variety trial in fresh, roasted and sautéed form.

Not only did they provide excellent flavor feedback, they volunteered important information previously not considered in the project.

For example, peppers with a sunken stem yield more waste than smooth-shouldered peppers. Crinkled peppers are harder to de-seed and process.

Their input guided the development of a new open-pollinated variety called Stocky Red Roaster from Wild Garden Seed in Philomath, Ore.

Selman has spent the last three years scaling that strategy. She formed an organization called the Culinary Breeding Network with the mission of creating stronger links between plant breeders and the consumers who depend on them. The organization focuses on breeding open-pollinated varieties for organic systems, but Selman says the benefits extend well beyond the organic market.

“When we say, ‘varieties bred for organic systems,’ it just means they’re able to perform well without a lot of inputs, and that saves money for conventional farmers. Conventional farmers are impacted by hybrid churn, too. More resilience, better flavor, these are things all farmers want,” Selman says.

Another benefit of the project has been an increased interest in, and understanding of, plant breeding among the public. Selman says, “When I went to the North American Plant Breeders’ Association meeting last year, they talked a lot about how important it is to engage and educate the general public about plant breeding and the misconceptions behind it. What’s GE? What’s a hybrid? The CBN has become very friendly way to put plant breeding on the general public’s radar.”

One of the ways the CBN has reached out to the public is through its annual Variety Showcase. The showcase pairs seed breeders with one or more chefs who prepare dishes that showcase current breeding projects. Held in Portland, the event sells out each year, and has attracted national sponsorship.

Moving forward, Selman hopes to expand her model to other regions of the United States. Organizations in Wisconsin, New York and Maine have all expressed interest in replicating the Culinary Breeding Network’s strategy.

Selman also wants to deepen the connections between breeders and other stakeholders by involving chefs, produce buyers, educators and farmers in hands-on, on-farm selections.

“I want to have more engagement physically in the field,” she says. “I want to see people walking and doing selections from the very early F2 or F3 stages, when there’s lots of diversity. I want to show them the results over years, to be able to release varieties that were created by the whole community.”


Seeding pastures for profit and pollinators Thu, 9 Mar 2017 10:15:49 -0500 Jan Jackson ROSEBURG, Ore. — Woody Lane is quick to point out that to make a profit and stay in the farming business, pasture management is key.

Speaking as president of the Oregon Forage and Grassland Council, Lane, who holds a doctorate and a master’s degree in animal nutrition from Cornell University, is passionate about the subject.

“When I came to Roseburg in 1990, we weren’t thinking about over seeding with things like improved grasses, new clovers, chicory, plantain and hybrid varieties of rape, kale and radish. We certainly were not thinking about seeding pastures for pollinators,” Lane said. “One of the great things about the OFGC is that it is well represented by seed industry members who help sponsor excellent workshops and field tours.”

OFGC was founded seven years ago to promote the usage of improved forages and increase the productivity and profitability of Oregon’s grasslands.

It also keeps its members abreast of the latest developments in all segments of forage and grassland agriculture, which includes seeding for pollinators, Lane said.

The Pastures for Pollinator program was a demonstration started in conjunction with Sujaya Rao of Oregon State University. Because more than 33 percent of the food supply comes from insect-pollinated crops, seed companies and individuals came together with donations of seed or money to help advance the program.

Tom Nichols, of Nichols Livestock Co. and an OFGC board member who raises sheep in the Brownsville-Albany area, talked about pasture management on his operation.

“I worked with some test plots when I was OSU Sheep Center manager and the sheep did love the turnips,” Nichols said. “In my own fields it is hard to manage, however. Some of my pastures have poor soils and the ones that would do well are located where they would cross-pollinate with my neighbors.”

Lane maintains that pasture management is both science and art and takes knowledge and skill.

“Well-managed means properly timed fertilizing, re-seeding and grazing, Lane said. “It also reduces feed costs because it is five to 10 times more expensive to haul the feed to the animals than if they can walk to it.”

More information about the OFGC is available at To contact Wood Lane, call Lane Livestock Services at 541-440-1926, emailing at or visiting

Sweet potatoes get a trial run in SE Oregon Thu, 9 Mar 2017 10:14:07 -0500 Brett Tallman ONTARIO, Ore. — With 20,000 acres of onions planted in southeastern Oregon, the area produces nearly a quarter of the nation’s storage-onion crop.

“Onions are the lifeblood of the area’s economy,” Stuart Reitz, a professor with Oregon State University’s Malheur County Extension, said. “It’s a huge economic engine that supports several hundred growers, processors and three dozen shipping companies.”

With the help of Joel Felix, an associate professor with OSU’s Agricultural Experiment Station in Malheur County, Froerer Farms of Nyssa, Ore., is testing a new crop for the area.

Felix was born and raised in Tanzania, an African nation that, in 2014, produced more than 3 million tons of sweet potatoes.

“The sweet potato is not new to me,” Felix said. “I know it very well; I know the length of time to get a crop and I thought we had enough time to get a crop here.”

In 2010, he put together a demonstration showing that sweet potatoes could be grown in the Treasure Valley.

Word spread about Felix’s demonstration. Potato processors in Oregon and Idaho wanted to know more.

“We have a lot of processors locally who truck in sweet potatoes from North Carolina and California,” Felix said. “By procuring potatoes grown locally, they thought they could cut down the cost of transportation.”

The following year, Felix conducted an experiment looking at varieties and irrigation criteria. After picking the brains of growers in North Carolina and California, he narrowed his search to four varieties suitable for Eastern Oregon’s climate.

“We settled on Covington,” he said. “The variety has orange flesh and some good qualities like resistance to disease and insects.”

Covingtons mature in 90 to 120 days, a suitable window for the growing season in the area. At the end of May, sweet potatoes are transplanted to fields and, by the beginning of October, they’re ready to harvest.

“Another good thing, (the sweet potato) doesn’t use water anywhere close to what Irish potatoes use,” Felix said. “Sweet potatoes are from the tropics; they don’t want to be cooled.”

“We grew our first crop in 2016,” Craig Froerer, CEO of Froerer Farms, said. “About 40 acres. I’d say we had moderate success, but we have a lot to learn.”

Froerer estimated that No. 1-grade sweet potatoes went for 18 cents a pound, while No. 2 and oversized sweet potatoes went for about 10 cents a pound.

No. 1s were fresh packed at Owyhee Produce and sold to retailers, while No. 2s and oversized went to processors in Western Oregon and Eastern Idaho.

Though Froerer does not expect sweet potatoes to replace the 800 acres of onions that make up his primary cash crop, Froerer Farms did invest in specialized equipment, including a sweet potato harvester.

“Looking at his investments, I’d say he’s serious about it,” Felix said. “He’s the only grower in the area with the harvesting equipment and he is continuing to grow them, so the checkbook must be balancing.”

Rice growers awash in import problems Thu, 9 Mar 2017 10:14:04 -0500 JULIA HOLLISTER Charley Mathews Jr. grew up working in his family’s rice fields.

“Like many farm kids, I started to drive a tractor when I was 12, irrigated rice in the summertime, and always participated when I could for planting and harvest,” he said.

He grew up near Marysville, Calif., where he still farms.

Mathews grows medium, premium medium and sweet rice. The medium and short grain varieties grown in California have all the characteristics of Japanese rice — soft and sticky — which is prefect for sushi. California is the world’s low-cost producer of sushi rice, and it is marketed around the world.

Like most crops, rice faces insect and weed pests, he said.

“Since rice is grown in an aquatic environment under a continuous flood, many aquatic weeds thrive and compete with rice for sunlight and nutrients,” he said. “The rest of the weeds are drowned by deep water.”

Insects are a minor challenge but require constant monitoring, he said.

Rice, Mathews said, has historically been viewed as a water-intensive crop. It actually uses about as much water as any other row crop.

Rice is grown in heavy clay and hardpan soils that have an impermeable layer below the root zone that does not allow water to percolate downward.

This soil type would drown trees and other row crops, but is perfect for rice. It does not suffer from salt buildup or any other long-lasting issues.

“I have a rice field that has been in continuous production for almost 80 years,” he said. “The yields seem to go up every year.”

Rice is not as labor-intensive as many other crops and growing it is highly mechanized. With expensive machinery to operate, it is important that growers find talented labor who can get the most out of the equipment.

“Rice growers have several challenges,” he said. “The ones we face locally have to do with air and water quality, and that fact that we are competing with an encroaching urban population that does not like noise or dust.”

Through the efforts of the California Rice Commission, he said, new urban neighbors are beginning to understand the environmental and social value of a rice field.

“Outside California we are challenged with a strong dollar that makes us less competitive,” he said. “Other rice-growing countries are illegally subsidizing their rice production to keep world prices low and unprofitable for us.”

In addition, World Trade Organization trading partners are not allowing California rice on store shelves in their countries as a way to protect their own rice growers, he said.

Imported rice has been competitive with California rice. It is mostly Jasmine from Thailand and Basmati from India. They are very different varieties but are taking normal customers away, he said.

“No one in the rice industry takes what we have for granted,” Mathews said. “We have watched other California crops like sugar beets simply disappear due to poor economics and world competition.”

He said rice farmers try to do everything they can to improve efficiencies, lower costs and increase production without sacrificing quality.

“But at the end of the day, we can only do so much and greatly depend on customers that understand the real value of our product and not just a simple commodity,” he said.