THE DALLES, Ore. — Oregon State University has hired a new extension agent for dryland wheat growers in Wasco and Sherman counties.
Jacob Powell, 29, took over the position Sept. 30 after spending a year as coordinator of the Sherman County Area Watershed Council. He replaces Sandy Macnab, who retired in 2016 after serving 37 years with OSU Extension Service.
Nearly one-quarter of Oregon wheat comes from Wasco and Sherman counties, totaling 205,862 acres. Most of that is grown without irrigation, in an area that receives just 13-17 inches of rain per year.
As watershed council coordinator, Powell said he worked collaboratively with the Sherman County Soil and Water Conservation District to help growers combat water and soil erosion, such as planting cover crops in fallow fields and embracing no-till farming.
"A couple of innovative producers are starting to use those cover crops more frequently," Powell said.
The trick is finding the right cover crops to prevent erosion and boost soil health without absorbing too much water in such a low-rainfall area, Powell said. Local wheat farmers typically grow in a summer fallow rotation, where a field is left to rest every other year in order to rebuild soil moisture.
No-till farming can also benefit soil, Powell added, though it does increase reliance on herbicides for treating noxious weeds, which can lead to issues with resistance.
Powell said he will continue to work directly with farmers at OSU to improve their production practices. Fallout from the 2018 Substation Fire — which impacted 31,000 acres of cropland and standing wheat over 86 farms in across both counties — is also still fresh in people's minds, Powell said, and he plans to organize future workshops covering farm and wildfire safety.
For now, Powell said he is conducting a needs assessment for local extension programs, and invites feedback from growers.
"I'm happy to listen to producers needs and get a sense of how best to prioritize extension programming to fit their needs," Powell said.
Powell is a native of Oregon, growing up in The Dalles where he raised livestock and participated in 4-H. He earned his bachelor's degree in biology from Pacific Lutheran University in 2013, and a master's degree in science and resource conservation from the University of Montana in 2017.
Powell can be reached at 541-296-5494, or firstname.lastname@example.org.