Agricultural Experiment Station

The Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station focuses the power of science to support over 220 Oregon crops and commodities and help address Oregon’s critical issues across landscapes, oceans, and food systems.

Small Farm School boosts potential of new farmers in north Willamette Valley

Small-acreage farming is growing popular in Oregon. The 2017 U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Census of Agriculture, released in early 2019, shows that small farms (less than 10 acres) are the fastest growing farm size in the state and increased 7.6% from 2012, compared to a 2.8% national decrease over the same time period. But beginning small-acreage farmers need access to networking opportunities and research-based information to ensure sustainability of their farms and food operations. They typically are a mix of those with farming experience but no funds to rent or buy land, or those who have purchased land with little or no farming experience. In 2012, with the number of beginning and small-scale farms and agriculture value-added operations in the north Willamette Valley expanding, Oregon State University Extension’s Nick Andrews and Heidi Noordijk established Small Farm School, an annual event for beginning farmers to get to know other small-scale farmers in their region and tap into the local food and farming community. “The goal was to create an educational event that celebrates the tremendous innovation happening on small farms in the region and the diversity of small farms, as well as the burgeoning interest in local sustainably-produced food,” said Andrews, professor of practice and Extension small farms specialist. Since its inception, more than 1,500 farming professionals have attended Small Farm School at Clackamas Community College in Oregon City, where they’ve learned about 218 topics. Each year, Small Farm School offers 25-30 classroom and hands-on classes, held during growing season and relevant to about 200 local producers. They might attend classes in “Assessing Farm Resources and Selecting an Enterprise,” “Cost Accounting for your Farm Business,” or “Train and Prune Fruit Trees.” The hands-on sessions have smaller class sizes to allow for participants to use equipment or do farm walks, said Noordijk, Extension’s small farms coordinator. Evaluations from participants consistently give the program a high success rating. More than 90% of 2019 participants in every session reported they expected to implement ideas learned on their farms. Participant comments from the 2019 Soil Biology class included, “I get it and I'll do it! Excellent relevant presentation with great practical advice” and, “I am super eager to go home and use what I learned! Looking forward to adding organic matter to my soil.”  A participant in the Electric Fencing for Rotational Grazing class said, “This class was so helpful, I feel I can construct a fence.” OSU Extension Small Farm School partners include the Clackamas Soil and Water Conservation District, Clackamas Community College, Rogue Farm Corps and Friends of Family Farmers.

Wheat and barley field trials help growers make annual variety choices

As summer turns to fall, Oregon’s cereal crop growers make decisions on the varieties of wheat or barley they will plant on their farm. These growers benefit from knowing which varieties have the best chance of success, and the most informed decision lowers the grower’s risk of sub-optimal crop yields and disease, while maintaining quality. Wheat is one of Oregon's largest crops, with a value at the farm gate of $239 million in 2017. Barley is an important rotation crop in many parts of Oregon. Recent wheat and barley variety field trials by Oregon State Extension Service provides data for growers of these key commodities. The trials were conducted at 20 locations in Oregon, four sites in Washington, and two in California. Spreading the research across diverse growing regions helps growers match the variety best suited to their growing conditions, needs and end use, said Ryan Graebner, OSU Extension cereal scientist. “Currently, at least five universities, six private companies, and the USDA have rights to wheat and barley varieties that may have a future in Oregon,” Graebner said. “While this leads to an abundance of options for growers in the state, it can be difficult for them to directly compare variety performance in the field.” That’s where the trials come in. “A conservative estimate of the cumulative impact of the (trial) program is a 1% increase in yield of wheat and barley,” Graebner said. “In 2018, this translates to approximately 516,000 bushels of wheat, at a price of $6 per bushel, and approximately 570 tons of barley, at a price of $150 per ton” – a financial benefit of nearly $3.2 million.

Improved propagation techniques assist olive growers in Oregon

In Oregon’s promising olive industry, it’s essential for producers, who now purchase plants from California nurseries, to grow their own trees to be financially sustainable. Although some local growers have been able to propagate olives from rooted cuttings, they are not achieving high success, often due to lack of information about propagation techniques. Published scientific information on this process is limited and is primarily from Europe, California and other olive-producing regions of the world. Rooting success varies widely between cultivars and best practices for the cultivars adapted to the Pacific Northwest have not yet been determined. Beyond the lack of knowledge of propagation techniques, growers would also benefit from producing their own plants free from invasive pests and diseases. OSU Extension started a program in early 2018 to look at olive production practices, including propagation. During 2018, the goal of the project was to investigate the timing to take cuttings in Oregon as well as hormone rates to use when starting cuttings. Cuttings were collected from a olive grower/collaborator in Yamhill County and started in a greenhouse with four different hormone rates. Preliminary results show that hormone rates affect rooting success, with one treatment having 83 percent (spring) and 92 percent (summer) rooting rates. Prior to the project, typical rooting percentage success rate for this grower was between 20 to 50 percent. Growers have begun altering which rooting hormones they use as well as rooting media and have had improved success in producing plants for their orchard. Additional growers will be added as the project continues.

OSU institute responds to growing smoke exposure in wine grapes

A significant increase in wildfires in the Pacific Northwest and California over the past 10 years has resulted in wine grapes being exposed to smoke at concentrations that result in smoke taint in wine. Smoke taint occurs when volatile compounds contained in smoke are absorbed by vines and grapes and accumulate in the berries. High concentrations of these compounds can impart a “smoky,” “ashtray,” or “campfire” flavor in the wine that many consumers find objectionable. In response, the Oregon Wine Research Institute at Oregon State University has formed a multi-disciplinary study team to seek information and develop solutions to this growing concern. The team includes Oregon State Extension viticulturists Patty Skinkis and Alex Levin, Extension enologist James Osborne, sensory scientist Elizabeth Tomasino, and applied economist James Sterns, all OSU faculty and OWRI core faculty members.  The group met in the fall of 2018 to define the problem, evaluate resources and current research, and begin to formulate a science-based approach to acquiring the necessary knowledge upon which recommendations can be based. This will involve: Development of OSU Extension publications that detail our current understanding of smoke taint and management strategies Continued collaboration with colleagues at other research institutes Development of research projects focused on addressing major concerns of the Oregon wine industry Education and outreach events Coordinating commercial winery trials OWRI is committed to seeking research driven solutions to the issue of smoke taint and communicating effectively to the Oregon wine industry.

Extension support keeps Oregon Christmas trees on top

Oregon is the No. 1 producer of Christmas trees in the U.S., selling 5.2 million trees for $109 million in 2017. Much of that is exported. But before they can be shipped, the trees need to be free of hitchhiking pests like midges, slugs, yellow jackets and twig weevils. So the OSU Extension Service created a 70-page, full-color, pocket-sized, bilingual field guide to help Christmas tree workers identify and manage pests. It also teaches workers, frequently in Spanish, how to scout for insects and diseases. For decades, Oregon's tree farms have grown Douglas-fir and noble fir, which together dominate the Pacific Northwest Christmas tree industry. But now OSU Extension is helping them expand their options. Chal Landgren, Extension's Christmas tree specialist, has research plots at the North Willamette Research and Extension Center, just south of Portland, where he evaluates Turkish, Trojan and Nordmann firs brought to Oregon from the mountains of Turkey and the Republic of Georgia. He's studying which species grows faster, and they're testing them for resistance to diseases and insects to see if they will perform better. In the case of Nordmann and Turkish firs, they have proven to resist root rot, which means they can be grown on a wider range of sites than noble fir. Nordmann and Turkish firs are also not prone to aphid attacks, which cuts down on pesticide use. And they have consumer appeal because they hold their needles well when kept in water. And from a grower’s perspective, these species survive summer droughts better than noble fir.

New Oregon State hazelnut varieties expand production

After hazelnut varieties developed at Oregon State University saved Oregon’s industry from devastation by eastern filbert blight, hazelnut acreage in Oregon has nearly tripled, marking a full recovery from a disease that nearly wiped out the state’s official nut. In the past eight years, Oregon State's hazelnut breeding program has released 20 cultivars that are resistant to eastern filbert blight. The most popular, "Jefferson," released in 2009, accounts for more than half the total acres planted. Plantings are also strong for "Yamhill," released in 2008; it’s a key ingredient in the popular chocolate-hazelnut spread Nutella. And there’s a waiting list for two more-recent OSU varieties, "Wepster" (2013) and "McDonald" (2014), a high-yielding cultivar whose size and blanching ability make it ideal for the baking, snack, and chocolate industries. "PollyO" is the latest and most disease-resistant hazelnut tree to come out of the breeding program. Growers generally don't need to spray the new varieties with fungicides. That helps preserve the environment and the growers’ bottom line. The new orchards are taking root: Unofficial estimates say that in the last 10 years the number of growers in western Oregon had jumped from 500 to more than 800. Total hazelnut acreage is now estimated at 80,000, with nearly 20,000 planted in the last two years. More than 99 percent of the U.S. hazelnut crop comes from Oregon. In 2018, the Oregon hazelnut harvest yielded a record 51,000 tons.  Learn more about Oregon State's hazelnut research.

OSU breeds new hops for craft brewers

Oregon ranks second in United States in hops production, with nearly 25 family-run hop farms spread over 7,700 acres – a 43 percent increase from 2014. The value of production in 2016 stood at $65 million - nearly doubling 2015's production value. The state’s microbrewers are in search of unique-smelling hops to create new tastes for consumers beyond the classic citrus, floral, and herbal notes, and Oregon State University is working to create new varieties for them. At its hop yard in Corvallis, almost 1,500 hop plants spiral skyward. Oregon State’s hops breeder, Shaun Townsend, sprinkles their young flowers with pollen, nurtures their offspring, then keeps the ones that resist diseases, boast high yields and have desirable aromas. Out of 4,000 or more seedlings in the greenhouse each year, Oregon State ends up with maybe a dozen it would brew beer with, and less than five that would interest the market. The first hop variety bred by Townsend in his Aroma Hops Breeding Program at OSU is Strata, which was released to Oregon-based hop merchant Indie Hops and has found its way into packaged beers, including Strata IPA, produced by Worthy Brewing in Bend. Strata expresses many of the oils associated with mango, oranges, and other fruits and herbs. Besides breeding hops, Oregon State works with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on research to address disease and insect problems, the genetic basis for certain traits, and the relationship between hop chemistry and beer quality.

OSU creates new barley varieties for food, beer and forage

Barley has been an underappreciated cousin of wheat, even though it is one of the world's oldest cultivated crops. But that's changing amid a growing interest in microbrews and whole-grain diets. Helping lead the way is its cheerleader, Oregon State University, which is developing new varieties of this superfood. The university has released a dozen new varieties and one genetic seed stock since 1993.  One of them is Alba, a variety with excellent disease resistance that thrives in high rainfall areas. Another, Full Pint, has captured the imagination of craft brewers due to the unique flavors its malt imparts to quality beers. OSU released the germplasm #STRKR – the first naked food barley adapted to the Pacific Northwest and one that research is showing will rival oatmeal as a breakfast staple for health-conscious consumers. The variety Buck was released in 2016 as a #STRKR replacement. OSU researchers are also identifying genes that allow barley to withstand low temperatures and resist disease. They’re also looking for genes responsible for malting quality, nutritional properties and flowering time. In plots at targeted sites in Oregon’s many diverse growing regions, OSU is seeing if barley can compete economically with wheat to give farmers a different source of income. Additionally, OSU is testing how its new cultivars hold up in the kitchen by developing new products with them like granola, popped barley, tortillas, pretzels, baguettes, pita breads, sourdoughs and focaccia. OSU has built and equipped a malt house that will assist in efficiently developing new varieties with unique malting and brewing properties. Barley was the world’s fourth most-produced cereal in terms of volume in 2016. In 2015, Oregon's farmers produced barley worth over $20 million (3.9 million bushels). That same year, Oregon produced 1.7 million barrels of beer. If every gallon of Oregon-brewed beer was made with malt grown in Oregon, around 30,000 acres of barley would be required. That assumes every acre would produce malting quality barley, but not every field will produce suitable barley every year. Alternative markets are needed for barley – the principal ones being human food and animal feed.  OSU is pursuing the goal of developing multi-use barleys that will be of interest and value to growers, brewers, food processors, feeders and, of course, to consumers. This work is supported by a grant from the USDA-NIFA-OREI program. OSU is the lead institution, with cooperators in Minnesota, New York, Washington and Wisconsin.

OSU helps cattle ranchers, environmentalists save sage-grouse

Oregon is home to 1.3 million head of cattle, valued at almost $700 million, many of which graze on sagebrush grassland. But some of that same land is also home to the greater sage-grouse. The bird occupies about half of its historical range in the United States and Canada because of degradation to its habitat. In Oregon, juniper trees, wildfires, and aggressive weeds have disturbed its ecosystem. In 2015 the sage-grouse was a candidate for listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA), and received a not-warranted decision due to unprecedented conservation efforts across its range. The decision will be revisited in 2020. In an effort to avoid an ESA listing, the OSU Extension Service has been informing landowners about a system in which they can voluntarily agree to conserve the species' out-of-balance habitat. Extension has partnered with state, federal and non-profit partners to create a Threat-based Land Management framework, which supports landowners in assessing threats to their property, and supports management decisions to address fire, juniper and weed threats. Additionally, Extension developed inventory and monitoring guidelines for landowners, whose cattle stand to benefit from the rangeland improvements. The science has been used to develop conservation plans throughout Oregon and neighboring western states. In May 2014, federal officials and cattle-ranching representatives signed a historic agreement to protect sage-grouse habitat on certain federal and private lands. As of 2018, landowners in Oregon representing 1.4 million acres, and an additional 600,000 acres of state lands, have enrolled and actively begun habitat improvements or formally expressed interest in signing the agreement.

OSU helps state's vineyards and wineries stay competitive

Oregon's wine industry is based on producing premium-quality wines, not mass quantities. If wineries want to compete with premium regions around the world, they know that research is necessary to keep them on the cutting edge. They're getting help from scientists at OSU's Oregon Wine Research Institute. OSU vine expert Patty Skinkis is pursuing a 10-year, statewide study at more than ten vineyards to question whether lower yields related to greater wine quality. She's also measuring vine growth, photosynthesis, soil moisture and vine nutrients to understand how vineyard management impacts the resulting fruit and wine. In a study she conducted with managing the vineyard soil, she found that grapes from vines surrounded by grass-covered alleyways had more regulated growth and scored the highest in terms of phenolics, which affect how wine feels in the mouth, and anthocyanins, which are pigments that produce a more intense red — a desirable trait in Oregon’s famous Pinot noir and many other red wines. That increased quality could translate into higher prices for Oregon grapes and for the wine made from them. Meanwhile, OSU enologist James Osborne is studying how various microorganisms present during winemaking impact wine quality. While some microbes can produce desirable wine aromas and should be encouraged, others can produce off-flavors that can make a wine smell like a barnyard or cheesy. James is studying factors impacting the growth of these spoilage microorganisms and developing strategies to help wine makers prevent wine spoilage. His goal is to help winemakers promote the growth of microorganisms that can produce the aromas and flavors they desire while minimizing the risk of off-flavors. Osborne and Skinkis are carrying on OSU's legacy of helping the wine industry. Past achievements of OSU scientists include isolating the first malolactic bacteria to grow at cold temperatures and low pHs; devising a lag growth phase crop estimation system that is now used universally; importing the Dijon clones and many varieties for the first time into the United States; and creating the first International Cool Climate Symposium for Viticulture and Enology in 1984. Oregon was home to 1,144 vineyards and 769 grape-crushing wineries in 2017. Growers produced $191 million of wine grapes that year.