Mechanical weed control topic of workshop, demonstrations

Eric Gallandt, a University of Maine weed ecologist, has unveiled several findings in recent years that could dramatically improve weed management in organic vegetable production.

As such, Gallandt has been a featured speaker at mechanical cultivation field days across the country.

On Aug. 16, Gallandt will be in Corvallis, speaking to participants in an Oregon State University Mechanical Cultivation Field Day at the OSU Vegetable Research Farm, 34306 N.E. Electric Road, Corvallis. The field day, which also features equipment demonstrations, will be from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

In a phone interview, Gallandt said he and a University of Maine graduate student, Bryan Brown, have been able to show that by stacking cultivation tools, weed control is dramatically improved in organic vegetable production systems.

“One of the more promising discoveries we’ve found in the last couple of years is that by using multiple tools in a single pass, or using multiple tools in sequence, is that you often get more than additive improvements in the percentage of weeds you kill. We have evidence of synergy,” Gallandt said.

“So, for example, if you take two different tools, one of which gives you 30 percent weed control, the other of which gives you 20 percent weed control, and you use them together, you don’t just get 50 percent weed control. You might get 75 percent weed control,” he said.

“And that holds true across challenging conditions, so across increasing soil moisture, across increasing size of weeds and other conditions,” he said.

In addition, Gallandt is researching the use of longer-term weed management strategies, including use of cover crops, in combination with stacking mechanical weed control.

“By combining some strategies to reduce the weed seed bank with improved physical weed control, we should be able to help farmers experience improving weed management circumstances over time,” he said.

In general, weed control in organic vegetable production systems has shown no improvement over time, he said, and in many cases, has worsened.

The strategies take more work than is employed in most organic vegetable production systems, he said, but can bring significant dividends.

“We’ve got some pretty decent evidence that this is the case,” he said. “For example, we did a nice experiment in onions that showed that longer-term seedbank management strategies that require more work can actually pay off, even in the short term, because of improved yields and improved quality.

“So, certainly if you look at it over the longer term, it is something that has the promise to increase profitability, and, in the case of using cover crops, for example, could be used for multiple benefits,” he said.

OSU Small Farms Extension agent Clare Sullivan, who along with fellow agent Nick Andrews, is putting together the field day, said the idea for the event came about because of interest among Oregon growers in a similar event held last year at Michigan State University, and because growers have struggled to use cultivation tools.

“There is a lot of interest in mechanical cultivation implements, especially from mid-sized organic growers, but we hear from a lot of them that they struggle to use the tools effectively,” Sullivan said. “We wanted to put on an educational event that shared the best practices to prepare your fields to use cultivation implements, and also have the equipment dealers show in-person how to adjust the tools to work effectively.

“The neat thing about this is it is targeted toward vegetable growers of all different sizes and, while it is primarily geared toward organic production, conventional growers can benefit from this as well,” Sullivan said.

Field Day

The OSU Small Farms Program’s Mechanical Cultivation Field Day is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Aug. 16 at the OSU Vegetable Research Farm, 34306 N.E. Electric Road, Corvallis.

The program includes live demonstrations of cultivation equipment and presentations by speakers, including keynote speaker Eric Gallandt, a weed ecology professor at the University of Maine.

The OSU Small Farms Program asks that participants register online by Aug. 10 at smallfarms.oregonstate.edu/mechanical-cultivation-field-day-corvallis.

Admission is $25 and includes lunch.


Saturated steam an organic weed killer

The Steam Weeder looks like a vacuum cleaner and sounds like an espresso machine, with a long hose and nozzle attached to a tractor-mounted boiler that superheats water up to 250 degrees.

Erik Augerson, a graduate research assistant for Oregon State University, recently demonstrated how the technology works during Blueberry Field Day at the North Willamette Research and Extension Center, steaming along rows of organic blueberries to control field bindweed.

As a weed management tool, Augerson said the Steam Weeder has shown promise, especially for organic growers. The saturated steam kills weeds by bursting plant cells, without frying woody mulch like flame weeding does.

Augerson, who is earning his master’s degree from OSU in horticulture, is part of a research team trying to develop a season-long organic weed management program for small berry growers, using steam in combination with other mechanical treatments and certified organic sprays.

“The organic berry industry in Oregon is having a lot of trouble determining what the best and most cost-effective form of weed management is for their systems,” Augerson told the Capital Press. “We’re just trying to increase the growers’ toolbox.”

The project is supported in part by a $500,000 grant from the USDA Organic Transitions Program, with additional funding from the OSU Agriculture Research Foundation and Northwest Center for Small Fruits Research.

Jeremy Winer, managing director of Weedtechnics, the Australian company that manufactures the Steam Weeder, was also on hand at Blueberry Field Day to meet with growers and answer questions about the product.

According to Winer, the Steam Weeder superheats water and flashes it into saturated steam within the nozzle system. It sprays 2.5 gallons per minute, penetrating 1 inch deep into the soil.

“It’s not actually boiling, but it’s superheated,” Winer explained. “It explodes the (weed) cells.”

OSU purchased the Steam Weeder over the winter, and field trials began about a month and a half ago. While they are still collecting data, Augerson said the technology could be another option for organic growers.

“We know that it can kill weeds, and that it works from a management standpoint,” Augerson said. “I think it has a lot of promise.

Depending on the size and model, Steam Weeders cost between $16,000 and $30,000. Augerson said the value for small farmers is in decreased need for manual labor controlling weeds, allowing them to put their workers to better use.

“There is a lack of farm labor, and it is decreasing,” Augerson said. “We want to make it so farmers can utilize their labor in different ways.”

Augerson said they will need at least two years of data before they can start writing a comprehensive, full-season weed management program for organic berries.


Meat processor shortage makes for long waits

Small USDA-inspected meat processors are an important part of the burgeoning local food movement, but there just aren’t enough of them, several operators say.

“The numbers in Oregon tell the story and they represent the whole country, but here we have lost some 300 processing facilities in the state over the last 35 years,” Ben Meyer, the co-owner of Revel Meats in Canby, Ore., said.

In Oregon there are only about 13 USDA-inspected meat slaughter and meat processing facilities in operation, according to the USDA. The lack of facilities is what causes the current operations to stay booked several months out, Meyer said.

There is a shortage of small-scale processors in Washington state as well, said Nancy Hibbing, president of the North Cascade Meats Co-op, which operates a mobile slaughter operation that serves Island, Skagit, Snohomish and Whatcom counties.

Washington only has about 14 USDA-inspected facilities and Idaho has about 15. California has about 35.

“There is a severe lack of USDA meat services in our area,” Hibbing said. Their operation began because another USDA-inspected facility in the area was about to close.

As operators have gotten older, they have sought buyers for their shops, according to Meyer, who said that he and his partner, James Serlin, had taken over from an older couple that wanted to retire. The problem arises when operators are unable to find someone to take over and they have to close their shops.

The facility Meyer runs was originally built in 1964.

“At that point there were like … 311 shops in the state,” Meyer said.

“Just losing that number of facilities has restricted the pipeline,” he said.

Time is another constraint for USDA plants. Meyer and his co-workers basically have from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. to get their work done, he said. They are restricted by the hours the inspector can work.

The USDA inspector is required to be at the plant non-stop on days when animals are being killed. The inspector has to witness the kill. On other days the inspector will be on-site a couple of times during the day to make sure everything is done properly.

That means the wait can be lengthy for ranchers and other producers who need to get their livestock processed and the meat ready for sale.

“The reason we are 6-8 months out is because everybody has to come through here if they are going to go to a farmers’ market or if they are going to go to a retail market or if they are going to sell to restaurants,” Meyer said.

Meat intended for retail markets must go through a USDA-inspected and -certified plant. Another type of plant is called a custom-exempt plant, which still requires a periodic inspection, either from the state or the USDA. Custom-exempt shops process meat, but not for re-sale. Usually, it involves an animal brought to a butcher by the owner who pays to have it slaughtered and processed.

Hibbing said to process meat through a custom-exempt shop, the animal must be purchased by the consumer before the kill. It cannot be re-sold after it is processed.


CDC: Handle backyard chickens with care

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — If you’re really loving your backyard chickens and all those fresh eggs, you might be giving your flock a little bit of extra attention — and some snuggles and kisses.

Well, you had better stop, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning.

You might be putting yourself at risk for a salmonella infection, the department said, and you wouldn’t be alone.

There is currently a multistate outbreak of salmonella infections linked to people touching backyard poultry, the CDC said on Monday.

As of July 13, 212 people in 44 states had been infected with the outbreak strains of salmonella, the department said in an outbreak advisory. The illnesses all began between Feb. 15 and June 21 of this year.

Of those infected, 34 people have been hospitalized and 26 percent are children younger than 5 years old. No deaths have been reported, the CDC said.

North Carolina, Wisconsin, Louisiana, Florida, Minnesota and Michigan have all had at least 10 people who were infected. Many of the other states with multiple people affected are in the Midwest and Southern regions, including Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri and Iowa, The Wichita Eagle reported.

Of those sick, 72 percent of people told the CDC that they had contact with chicks or ducklings in the week before their illnesses started.

The CDC saw a record-high number of illnesses linked to backyard poultry in 2017 — 1,120 people in 48 states were infected as of Oct. 19, 2017. One person died.

“As raising backyard flocks becomes more popular, more people are having contact with chickens and ducks — and may not know about the risk of salmonella infection,” the CDC said in last year’s outbreak summary.

The investigation of the 2018 outbreak is ongoing, but the CDC has advised to “always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water” after handling or being near poultry and their equipment — even if you didn’t touch the birds. The agency also said to not let children under 5 to handle or touch chicks, ducklings and other live poultry without supervision.

“Children younger than 5 years of age are more likely to get sick from exposure to germs like salmonella.”

Do not let live poultry in the house or where you keep food and drinks, the CDC said. The agency also advised to change shoes after taking care of your backyard flock

“Don’t snuggle, kiss, or touch your mouth to live baby poultry.”

Salmonella is a bacteria that can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps, the CDC said. Each year in the U.S., about 1.2 million people are infected and 450 die from salmonella. Food is the source of about 1 million salmonella illnesses and 380 deaths each year.


WSDA eyes new organic fees, logo

OLYMPIA — Washington’s organic fees and logo are due for an overhaul, according to the state Department of Agriculture.

The department is in the early stages of revising rates to collect more money from the 1,100 organic producers, handlers and processors it inspects, certifies and advises.

The department also plans to adopt a new label for the state’s organic products, replacing George Washington’s image with something more distinctively organic, said Brenda Book, organic program supervisor.

“We want people to want to use the logo,” she said. “We want to make it a little more modern and up-to-date.”

The department has not proposed specific fees or unveiled a new logo, but hope to have both in place by the beginning of next year. Book said the department needs to take in more money to keep the program self-supporting and build a cushion, though some businesses may not see their fees rise.

“We don’t anticipate increases across the board,” she said.

A new-look label, different than the USDA organic logo, should help market the state’s products, Book said. The department has been working with a graphic designer, she said. “None of the draft concepts include (Washington’s) head anywhere.”

The department certifies that organic products meet USDA standards. Annual fees range from $200 for growers with less than $15,000 in sales to $2,200 plus 0.11 percent of gross sales for growers with sales of more than $75,000.

The department has a separate list of fees for handlers and processors.

The department’s current budget estimates the department will collect $6.5 million in fees over two years to support the equivalent of 35.5 full-time positions.

The department is not ready to say how much more money it wants to collect. A detailed proposal will be due in the fall. In the meantime, the department will meet with organic producers, Book said. “We’re still determining what’s that magic number we want to get to,” she said.

Fees last had a major overhaul more than 15 years ago.

“Salaries and benefits are at a different amount than 15 years ago,” Book said. “We held off as long as we could, to the point we really need to do it now.”

The state agriculture department does not have a monopoly on organic certification in Washington. Some 15 other USDA-accredited organizations based outside the state are willing to certify organic farms in Washington, according to a USDA’s National Organic Program database.

“We have to be competitive because people have a choice,” Book said. “We are proud of being the most affordable certifier in the state.”


Website helps farmers, landowners make connections

SEATTLE — A Washington state organization dedicated to preserving farmland, has a new online tool that connects farmers with landowners.

PCC Farmland Trust’s new website is called Farm to Farmer.

The idea behind the online tool is to make sure farmland in the Puget Sound area stays in production by helping farmers obtain land from retiring farmers or other landowners.

Molly Goren, the communications manager for the trust, said the organization is focused in the Puget Sound region because the price of land is so high near Seattle.

Farm to Farmer isn’t just a website, there are also two farmers on staff who “serve as the human component to help make as many matches as possible,” Goren said.

The farmer representatives help users with their listings, answer questions and make sure that farmers or landowners are representing themselves in the best way. Goren said the two representatives can even visit the properties being listed, if need be.

To list land or contact farmers, users must first create an account. Currently there are 5 landowners and 10 farmers using the tool.

Users log onto the website and create an account, where they answer basic questions such as address, phone number, name and whether they are a real estate agent. Then users choose between searching for land or searching for a farmer to manage or buy their land.

The main goal now is to get as many users on the site as possible, she said.

“So far it’s just getting folks up on the site,” Goren said.

Farm to Farmer hopes to have 100 users by the end of its first two years, according to Goren.

Currently the website is open to any farmer looking for land. However, land that is listed must be in Pierce or King counties.

Farmers can search the site based on whether they want to lease or buy, whether the land is organic-ready and if housing is available on the site. Farmers listed can offer biographies, and the characteristics that would meet their needs. Some users said they were seeking organic-ready land, while others mentioned they needed property that would work for dairy goats.

Landowners could list a few acres best used as pasture or they could list an operation as large as a dairy farm.

Goren said part of the importance of the project is it works with any size of operation.

It works on “any spectrum and any scale,” Goren said.

 


Drought expands in Oregon, Washington

Drought conditions are spreading in Oregon and Washington, and an El Nino forming in the Pacific Ocean will tilt the odds in favor of more warm and dry months ahead, federal officials reported.

The percentage of Oregon in moderate or severe drought was up to 80 percent from 68 percent from the week before, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Meanwhile, a moderate drought in Washington expanded to 26 percent from 17 percent of the state.

Conditions in Idaho and California were unchanged, with 6 percent of Idaho and 44 percent of California in some degree of drought. The Drought Monitor has four stages of drought, ranging from moderate to exceptional.

Also the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center reported that the odds favor above-average temperatures in the four states during August, September and October.

Looking further ahead, the center puts the chances that an El Nino will form in the Pacific Ocean by November at 70 percent. An El Nino, a warming of equatorial sea-surface temperatures, usually leads to warmer and drier winters in the Pacific Northwest.

Forecasts of an El Nino have missed the mark before. A large amount of warm water below the surface makes forecasters slightly more confident this time, according to the center.

Drought conditions in Oregon are most severe east of the Cascades, where 25 percent of the state has fallen into a “severe” drought, the level above “moderate.”

In Washington, the moderate drought conditions are mostly west of the mountains, though drought conditions extend up the Columbia Gorge as far east as Benton County.

River flows in southwest Washington are particularly low, resembling levels during the 2015 drought, according to Ecology. The department last month curtailed the water-rights of 93 irrigators in the Chehalis basin.

East of the Cascades, the water-rights of about 40 irrigators in the Walla Walla basin in southeast Washington have been curtailed.

Ecology on Friday cut off the water-rights of 80 irrigators in the Methow basin in north-central Washington because of low stream and river flows.

The Bureau of Reclamation projected this month that junior water-right holders in the Yakima Valley will receive 100 percent of their water supplies for the irrigation season.


Program teaches students about local food

Idaho’s Farm to Summer program kicks off July 18, providing students in the Boise area with a locally grown meal and information about  each food item on their plates.

Three schools will serve about 465 students, said Leah Clark, who manages the Idaho Preferred program within the state Department of Agriculture. Farm to Summer aims to connect children with local food through an educational program paired with a menu focusing on food produced locally, she said.

Idaho Preferred staff will conduct hands-on educational activities designed to help increase students’ knowledge and understanding of Idaho agriculture, and the connection between agriculture and ready-to-eat foods, Clark said. A take-home bag includes fresh produce and educational materials for students, and information for parents.

Sessions start at 11:30 a.m. July 18 at Horizon Elementary School in Boise, 11:30 a.m. July 25 at Morley Nelson Elementary in Boise and 11 a.m. July 27 at Ross Elementary in Kuna.

Farm to Summer is a joint project of Idaho Preferred and Idaho Agriculture in the Classroom, with funding from the Ada County Farm Bureau and Northwest Farm Credit Services.

Idaho Preferred works to identify and promote the state’s food and agriculture products.


Teaching farm helps new farmers

A unique teaching farm in northwest Washington state offers a variety of hands-on programs to help aspiring farmers get going in agriculture.

Cloud Mountain Farm Center in Everson, Wash., provides new farmers with the resources they need to get started including an internship program and an incubator farm program.

According to the center’s education manager, Annah Young, the center can be described as both an “educational and highly productive farm.”

The internship lasts nine months, during which participants work four days a week on the farm and spend one day a week in a classroom or on a farm tour, Young said.

The center has an 11-person staff that puts on workshops, oversees farm production and operations, sales from the on-site nursery and more.

The incubator farm program also offers help to farmers starting out. An incubator farm “is a place where something can grow, thrive and live,” said Cheryl Thornton, the marketing and finance director for the nonprofit and one of the original owners of Cloud Mountain.

The program allows beginning farmers to lease up to 2 acres from the farm, which also gives them access to equipment, irrigation, a barn and refrigeration to store their crops.

The farmers pay for the use of the farmland. Thornton said that the price is fair and she mentioned the farmers need to figure out how to incorporate land cost into their business plans. The cost of the land includes the use of all the equipment and storage space as well.

The Thorntons, Cheryl and her husband, Tom, bought the farm — at the time an abandoned dairy farm — nearly 40 years ago. The operation began as a tree fruit business. She and her husband learned to graft trees while in college.

Through the years, the farm has continued to grow tree fruit — as well as other food crops — and teach workshops on crop production. The Thorntons have taught workshops almost since the beginning, she said.

In 2011 a group of people was looking for land to host incubator farms with money from the Whatcom Community Foundation. After the group was unable to find land that was suitable, they approached the Thorntons and asked if they would be interested in hosting the farms. According to Thornton, she and her husband had been looking for a way for the farm, as well as the education aspect, to continue despite their getting older.

The money from the foundation allowed the farm to transition into a nonprofit and Thornton said now they know that their work will continue.

“We know that we can take a step back and know the education will continue,” Thornton said.

With education at the forefront of the operation, Thornton said that bringing farmers together to learn from one another is also important.

“We create ways for farmers to talk to each other and learn from each other,” she said.


Oregon company lands $50K county grant to build test greenhouse

Michelle Moore steps inside one of several commercial greenhouses on display at Adapt8 headquarters in Salem, Ore., noting how sunlight reaches into every nook and cranny of the structure.

“There are no shadows in the greenhouse at all,” said Moore, company president and CEO. “It’s a surprising effect.”

Adapt8, formerly Adaptive Plastics Inc., is known for manufacturing corrugated plastic panels used for greenhouses and greenhouse coverings. The material, branded as Solexx, is highly dense and translucent, meaning it diffuses light to spread over the entire space.

Solexx greenhouses have been sold in all 50 states, Moore said, and in May the company announced it received a $50,000 economic development grant from Marion County for additional product testing and research.

With the money, Adapt8 plans to build a new 2,500-square-foot greenhouse at its offices on Brooklake Road Northeast, where employees will try out new systems and products to reduce energy while maximizing plant growth. Eventually, Moore said the greenhouse will be used to grow fresh fruits and vegetables for the community, with 1,000 pounds donated annually to the Marion-Polk Food Share.

Employees will also establish their own community-supported agriculture program, or CSA, and begin teaching classes to the public on how they can grow their own healthful food at home.

“We want to show people how we’re doing things differently,” Moore said.

The goal, Moore said, is to help commercial growers and hobby farmers conserve resources and become more sustainable. Solexx greenhouses, with their light-scattering polyethylene panels, offer 25 percent more plant growth versus direct light provided by polycarbonate panels, and 30 percent more insulation, she said.

Adapt8, a second-generation family-owned company founded by Moore’s parents, actually got its start by accident. At the time, they were selling plastic totes made from a material similar to Solexx to growers for harvesting fruit. The totes caused less bruising than metal buckets, Moore said.

One day, they left a plastic tote upside down in their yard. The grass underneath, they found, had grown 6-8 inches tall, and was a deep verdant green.

Moore’s father, Mike Perry, quickly realized the material would make for a good greenhouse.

“The family has deemed him the mad scientist,” Moore said with a laugh. “That’s how the company started, as a hobby greenhouse business.”

Today, the business has about 20 employees, and expects to hire 10 more with construction and maintenance of the new test greenhouse. Moore said they plan to break ground sometime before the end of the year.

In 2009, Moore said the company managed to harvest $5,000 worth of food in one season out of an 8-foot-by-8-foot greenhouse. She believes they can produce the same results on a larger scale in a commercial-size building.

“We want to challenge the status quo of how that’s done,” she said. “It’s really a pretty astounding amount of food.”