OSU calculator helps organic farmers use fertilizer efficiently


Organic farmers use cover crops, fertilizers and compost to add nutrients to their soil. But they don't always know if they're getting the most bang for their buck.

Now they do. An online tool from the OSU Extension Service does the math so that organic farmers can figure that out more precisely. It's called the Organic Fertilizer and Cover Crop Calculator.

Over 2,400 people have registered to use the free, spreadsheet-based resource, more than 450 of whom are from Oregon. Users hail from at least 60 countries and manage more than 160,000 acres. If they save or earn $50 per acre through reduced fertilizer costs or increased quality and yields on just a quarter of those 160,000 acres, that would mean an extra $2 million in their pockets each year.

Educators in Oregon, Washington, North Carolina and other states use the calculator to teach students nutrient management concepts, while conservationists in Oregon and California have used it to develop nutrient management programs under the Organic Environmental Quality Incentives Program. In addition, OSU Extension has published a 23-page guide explaining the science behind the calculator. It has been downloaded over 3,000 times (approximately 200 times per month) and is one of the most popular nutrient management publications in the OSU Extension catalog.

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Oregon State entomologists develop organic product to control fruit pest

The invasive spotted wing drosophila (SWD) first arrived in Oregon in 2009. While its fruit fly cousins lay their eggs in overripe fruit, this insect lays eggs in berries, cherries and other soft fruits as they begin to ripen. The developing larvae eat into fruit marketability. In Oregon alone, the flies threaten berry and cherry crops valued at more than $268 million in 2017. Oregon State University entomologists have been working for a number of years to develop a non-toxic SWD disruptor that significantly reduces crop damage. The result of that work, a patent-pending commercial application known as Decoy, has resulted in a 67% reduction in damage, on average. For blueberries it’s close to 90% in certain time periods. For strawberries it’s 86%, and in wine grapes it’s about 50%. That efficacy is comparable with pesticides, but it has no insecticide in it at all, making it environmentally friendly. Gabriella Tait, a postdoctoral research associate in OSU Extension professor and horticultural entomologist Vaughn Walton’s lab, helped originate the technology and is working toward cost-effective application and delivery methods.  “We are essentially producing an economic benefit because of the combined lower cost of labor, and we are increasing its effectiveness,” says Valerio Rossi Stacconi, a postdoctoral research associate who is working on the application in Walton’s lab. “The longer the product remains active, the less that needs to be applied.”

Extension Small Farms Program among nation’s best

Many people, especially younger “agripreneurs,” start a farm as a way to make the world better than they found it. But not all new farmers are ready for intensive business planning. They soon find out how difficult it can be to make a profit in farming — especially when they are growing dozens of different crops for many different markets, nearly all year long. The number of small farms in Oregon has steadily grown in the last few decades, with the help of the OSU Extension Small Farms Program. The program works toward improving small-farm horticultural production and small-scale livestock, poultry and forage production. When it started in 2005, the program featured four Extension agents, including Garry Stephenson, the program’s founding director. It has grown to 15 OSU personnel working on small farms in some capacity, including 11 full-time equivalent positions. With a nationally recognized annual small farms conference held each February, OSU Extension’s Small Farms Program today rivals any in the country. To date, 18 of Oregon’s 36 counties participate in OSU’s Small Farms Program. The program provides multiple benefits for a wide variety of farm communities, including everything from helping small-scale commercial farmers improve their bottom line to helping landowners, who have off-farm jobs and aren’t looking to earning a living off their land, manage their holdings. The program offers several classes to the general public, including a Living on the Land series, which is designed for landowners new to managing small-scale farms. Class topics for the series might include weed management, soil health, managing water resources and pasture and grazing management. Courses for more advanced farmers might look at recordkeeping or designing financial strategies for tightening up a business model.

OSU's Croptime helps farmers plant veggies at the right time

Well-timed harvests enable growers to meet demand for consistent supplies of produce. Good timing also helps farmers schedule labor when they need it, and can help minimize pest damage at stages during the growing season when crops are most vulnerable. Growers normally schedule planting and harvests using a calendar and the crop’s estimated days to maturity from seed catalogs. However, temperature and weather conditions can alter these estimates, especially in an uncharacteristically warm or cool year. Now a team at Oregon State University has built Croptime, a web-based predictive tool that Willamette Valley vegetable farmers can use to schedule their plantings and harvests for the most favorable times.  Croptime taps into temperature data and weather and climate forecasts to calculate optimal dates for planting of vegetable crops grown in the valley. To use Croptime, growers select the weather station nearest their farm, select their crop and variety and choose from a number of different forecasting options. Then they enter up to four prospective planting dates. For each planting date, Croptime predicts key growth stages and harvest maturity date. Croptime can calculate time-to-harvest for four broccoli, six cucumber and four sweet pepper varieties. It can also predict when three important weeds (redroot pigweed, lambsquarter and hairy nightshade) are likely to go to seed and spread. Croptimes co-developers, Nick Andrews (Organic Extension program), Len Coop (Integrated Plant Protection Center) and their colleagues are in the process of adding at least 30 more vegetable variety models to Croptime. By enabling growers to identify their optimum planting dates, Croptime promises to take some of the uncertainty out of harvest scheduling, says Andrews. “And that’s important, because accurate timing of harvests is critical to keeping vegetable farmers profitable and sustainable.”