Field day shines spotlight on soil health research

A national soil health research project, including four experiments in the Pacific Northwest, will share the spotlight during Washington State University’s annual Lind Field Day.

The event begins 8:30 a.m. June 13 at the dryland research station in Lind.

Speaker Shannon Cappellazzi, of the Soil Health Institute in North Carolina, will discuss making soil health assessments useful for farmers. She will speak about the institute’s North American Project to Evaluate Soil Health Measurements, studying 31 indicators of soil health on 120 long-term experiments across Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

Pacific Northwest researchers will be able to compare soil health assessments with wheat-based systems elsewhere throughout the continent, said Bill Schillinger, director of WSU’s dryland research station in Lind, Wash.

“It’ll be the first detailed soil health assessment from long-term farming practices in the inland Pacific Northwest across numerous sites,” Schillinger said.

Four experiments in the Pacific Northwest dryland region were selected for the project, including Schillinger’s project on farmer Ron Jirava’s farm near Ritzville, Wash., now in its 23rd year; a project on farmer Curtis Hennings’ farm near Ralston, Wash., a biosolids project in Douglas County for nearly 20 years, and a long-term Oregon State University and USDA experiment in Pendleton, Ore.

As coordinator throughout the West, Cappellazzi took soil health measurements at all four sites and sites in California, Arizona and Utah.

All coordinators like Cappellazzi will have their soil health assessments completed in the field by June 15.

“This is going to move really fast,” Schillinger said. He expects some resulting publications out of the project later in 2019, with the total project completed within 2 1/2 years. “It’s just an incredibly fast timeline for this kind of thing. Usually it takes us forever to do this stuff.”

Other topics on the agenda:

• Winter pea acres are increasing despite low prices. USDA Agricultural Research Service breeder Rebecca McGee will provide updates on dryland varieties.

• Biosolids for wheat agronomy and soil microbes, with presentations by Schillinger and USDA ARS research plant pathologist Tim Paulitz.

“There’s pros and cons of using them,” Schillinger said. “They smell when you apply them, they smell when they get rained on afterwards for a while. The plus is they provide lots of micronutrients you’d have to pay a lot of money to get otherwise.”

• Updates on WSU’s winter wheat breeding and spring wheat breeding programs from Arron Carter and Mike Pumphrey.

• Updates from WSU, the state legislature, the state grain commission, Washington Association of Wheat Growers and Pacific Northwest Canola Association.

Farmers’ fields are looking average, with May precipitation slightly half of normal and nothing slated for June, Schillinger said. Winter precipitation was average.

“We’re fortunate to be average … winter wheat’s resilient. Spring crops? We’ll see,” he said.

The Lind event is the the best-attended of all field tours hosted statewide by WSU, according to the university, and the Pacific Northwest, Schillinger said.

“Farmers like coming not only to learn what we have going on, it’s a social event, too,” Schillinger said. “I think people enjoy the day.”

The event is free and open to the public.