Extension agent dives into field crop research

of OSU Extension Clare Sullivan is the Oregon State University Extension field crops agent for Linn, Benton and Polk counties in the Willamette Valley.

Nearly two years after Clare Sullivan started as an Oregon State University Extension field crops agent for Linn, Benton and Polk counties in the Willamette Valley, she has not lost her Canadian accent — or her enthusiasm for helping growers through research.

In fact, she has found herself in the thick of five big research projects all in initial years of study. She juggles research with talking regularly to growers through field days, meetings, newsletters, social media and email alerts.

As field crops agent, grass seed is king in her crop repertoire; she also handles winter wheat, clover seed, mint, meadowfoam and brassica seed.

Her research involving these crops is grower-driven and industry-funded. One project, for example, involves examining different products and rates for spraying in established white-clover stands. It’s a broadleaf rotation, she said, with many benefits as a rotation crop.

A second project involves studying nitrogen rates in an old crop that is generating new buzz — spring-planted field peas. They are either grown for seed or sprouting peas, depending on the buyer.

“The price is better so people are growing them again,” Sullivan said. “But growers have tons of questions about them because their grandparents or parents grew them but they don’t have personal experience with them.”

Additionally, Sullivan is studying management of tall fescue by mixing plant growth regulators. This plant lives up to its name and naturally grows so tall it can topple over, potentially a huge problem for yield.

“The idea is to get a synergy between the two plant growth regulators to increase yield,” Sullivan said. “This hasn’t been looked at yet in tall fescue. As with the other projects we have to get one or two years of data. We’re starting the first year this summer.”

Lastly among major projects, Sullivan has been working with Pat Hayes, the barley breeder on campus at Oregon State University, and his team to study malting barley.

The team is in its second field season starting this spring. “It is definitely a smaller crop in Oregon but there is interest because Oregon has a growing craft brewing industry, but there is not a lot of malting barley grown here in Oregon so there is a push by brewers to encourage more malting barley to be grown locally in Oregon,” Sullivan said. “But malting barley has some specific requirements by craft brewers compared to barley grown in the field or for feed.”

Those exacting requirements include protein content, plumpness and test weight, among other factors.

“The idea is to look at five different varieties of malting barley and three different nitrogen rates and look at that in three different areas in Oregon with different soil types — the Klamath Basin, La Grande and the Willamette Valley,” Sullivan said.

Hayes’ team goes a step further than standard field research. They malt their harvested grain at a micromaltery, brew their own beer and have a sensory panel taste it. In this first year of data collection, all varieties planted in the Willamette Valley have done well so far, Sullivan said.

In all five of these projects and all her research activities, Sullivan will report data and results back to growers at upcoming field days, which are advertised on the Extension field crops website at http://oregonstate.edu/valleyfieldcrops.

“I’m enjoying it. I’m having fun and learning a lot,” said Sullivan, who prior to coming to Oregon earned degrees at the University of British Columbia and the University of Saskatchewan, and worked as a soil research technician for the British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture. “The crops and production systems here are new to me, and I’m learning the differences between crops grown for seed versus for forage or vegetables.”

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