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Wheat & Small Grains Dryland Organic

It’s Seed Buying Time!

Spring is in the air in some areas of the Pacific Northwest with others still under snow. Planting season is almost here, bringing with it the latest seed buying resources.

The Washington State Crop Improvement Association’s (WSCIA) 2016 Certified Seed Buying Guide is available both online and from local seed dealers. Produced with help from the WSU Crop and Soil Sciences Department, it covers variety performance for legumes, wheat, and barley, and planting rate based on seeds per square foot. The guide also has a certified seed source list.

The WSU Oilseed Cropping Systems (WOCS) website has several updated resources:

  • Spring oilseed supply list from Pacific Northwest seed dealers and retail outlets — Canola, mustard, camelina, sunflower, safflower, and flax are all available. The crucifer seed quarantine now applies to eastern Washington counties. All seed must be tested for blackleg, and be certified blackleg-free. Every bag should have a Washington State Department of Agriculture-issued tag. This includes cover crop mixtures containing cruciferous crops such as canola, radish, and others.
  • USDA-ARS/WSU 2015 winter canola variety trial results from Okanogan and Pomeroy
  • University of Idaho 2015 spring canola variety trial report from four locations in Idaho and three locations in Washington
  • A Whole-Farm Revenue Protection presentation that was given at the WSU Oilseed Workshops. March 15 is the whole-farm revenue protection and insurance coverage deadline for spring crops.

For more information about the WSCIA seed buying guide or the cereal variety testing program, contact Ryan Higginbotham (rhigginbotham@wsu.edu or 509-335-1205). Karen Sowers (ksowers@wsu.edu or 509-396-5936.) can answer questions about oilseed suppliers and the WOCS program.

Spring wheat, barley, peas, canola, and winter wheat in a research field. Photo by Stephen Guy.
Spring wheat, barley, peas, canola, and winter wheat in a research field. Photo by Stephen Guy.
Washington State Department of Agriculture Tag
Washington State Department of Agriculture Tag

New Publication Has Washington Agribusiness Focus

Washington Agribusiness Status and Outlook cover photo_Page_01 Washington Agribusiness: Status and Outlook 2016 is the inaugural issue of a new annual publication. Produced by WSU economic sciences faculty, it examines the opportunities and challenges facing Washington agriculture. Each issue will come out in January and will provide an update on Washington’s major sectors, including wheat and barley, specialty crops, tree fruit, beef, and dairy, as well as feature articles on specific issues unique each year.

A major focus this year is on the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement currently awaiting action by the U.S. Congress. In his article, “Status of Washington Agricultural International Exports,” writer Andrew Cassey highlights the importance of trade to Washington agriculture and discusses potential impacts of the trade agreement. Writer Randy Fortenbery gives the small grains economic forecast in his piece “Situation and Outlook for Small Grains.” In addition, there are two interesting articles that review the results of recently completed research projects that focus on the beef and hard cider sectors in Washington.

Executive editor Randy Fortenbery, who is also a professor in the School of Economic Sciences, intends Washington Agribusiness: Status and Outlook 2016 to provide a concise summary of the issues facing Washington agribusiness. Timothy Nadreau, managing editor, welcomes suggestions for future content. He can be reached at timothy.nadreau@wsu.edu.

Results of the 2014 Survey of Northwestern Organic Producers

Organic small grains farmers have lamented the lack of information available on organic management of weeds and soil fertility. “My experience, once we went organic we basically fell off the radar of all local agronomists or their employees,” one grower in Oregon said, when asked about the availability of information for organic growers in the Northwest. In order for university researchers to gain a better understanding of the challenges, management practices, and research needs associated with organic small grains producers in the inland Northwest, we conducted a survey of all organic grain and livestock producers in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. The results of this survey can spur interest in organic grains research among university researchers and Extension agents and help them to identify research projects, all with the aim of increasing the productivity of organic production in the inland Northwest

Find a summary of the survey results (updated on 10/07/2015) here: Executive Summary 2014 Survey.

Results of the 2014 Survey of Northwestern Organic Producers

Organic small grains farmers have lamented the lack of information available on organic management of weeds and soil fertility. “My experience, once we went organic we basically fell off the radar of all local agronomists or their employees,” one grower in Oregon said, when asked about the availability of information for organic growers in the Northwest. In order for university researchers to gain a better understanding of the challenges, management practices, and research needs associated with organic small grains producers in the inland Northwest, we conducted a survey of all organic grain and livestock producers in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. The results of this survey can spur interest in organic grains research among university researchers and Extension agents and help them to identify research projects, all with the aim of increasing the productivity of organic production in the inland Northwest

Find a summary of the survey results (updated on 10/07/2015) here: Executive Summary 2014 Survey.

Get a Refund for Your Organic Certification Fees Through Cost Share

The National Organic Certification Cost Share Program offers funds to organic producers and handlers to assist them with costs of certification.

Who Qualifies?

If you:

  • are an organic farmer, processor or retailer,
  • received/updated your organic certification from October 1, 2013- September 30, 2014,
  • have an organic operation with a scope in crops, wild crops or livestock,

you may be eligible for a refund of up to 75% of your certification costs, with a maximum of $750 per scope of operation.

What fees can be reimbursed?

For WSDA Organic Program clients, fees eligible for a refund include: Annual Fees, Application Fees, Site Fees, Certification Fees, Inspection Fees and Expedite Fees as designated under chapter 16-157 WAC.

How to Apply?

  • If you are certified Organic through the WSDA Organic Program: complete, sign, and submit the Statewide Payee Registration form. The form can be found here: http://agr.wa.gov/foodanimal/organic/
  • If you are certified Organic through another USDA accredited certifier and your business is located in Washington State: complete, sign, and submit the Statewide Payee Registration form, along with a proof of organic certification and an itemized paid receipt of fees paid for certification

Submit your application directly to WSDA before December 1, 2014

  • By e-mail at organic@agr.wa.gov
  • By fax to: Attention: Organic Program, 360-902-2087
  • By mail to: Washington State Dept of Agriculture, Attention: Organic Program, PO Box 42560, Olympia WA 98504-2560

Find more information about the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program.

2014 Dryland Organic Farming Research Review and Farm Tour

WSU hosted a Dryland Organic Farming Research Review and Farm Tour on July 9th, 2014. Growers and researchers presented their recent experiences with dryland organic production of small grains, forages and pulses. Topics covered included using composted manure for wheat production, companion cropping vs. cover cropping using legumes, profitable transition strategies, soil quality issues and a survey of organic practices in the region. Growers Owen Jorgensen and Eric Nelson shared their first-hand experience with organic production of small grains.

Lunch was followed by a tour of the Boyd Dryland Organic Farm. Associate professor Ian Burke and graduate student Nicole Tautges showed their research plots and presented recent results. Featured research included a comparison of cropping rotations for grain production, forage and grain triticale production and the use of precision in-row tillage for weed control.

A winter wheat plot at the Boyd Organic Farm. 9 different rotation systems are being evaluated for organic production.
A winter wheat plot at the Boyd Organic Farm. 9 different rotation systems are being evaluated for organic production.
Nicole Tautges presents her research on intercropping grains with peas for nitrogen supply and using precision in-row cultivation.
Nicole Tautges presents her research on intercropping grains with peas for nitrogen supply and using precision in-row cultivation.

Profitable Transition Strategies

Before being certified organic and being able to receive an attractive organic premium for their crops, growers must undergo a three-year period of transition that can be financially challenging. For three years, they must adopt organic production practices, which can be expensive to set up and result in lower yield. During that time however, they do not receive an organic premium price for their crops. With diminished yields, investment requirements, and low crop prices, is there a profitable way to approach the transition period?

The first step is to understand that the transition period is temporary: the losses incurred during that time do not necessarily reflect the profitability of your system. “You must consider the transition period as an investment, a loan you are taking out at the bank”, says Kathleen Painter from the University of Idaho. With that in mind, you can set two objectives for your transition period:

1. Minimize financial losses during the transition period

2. Use the transition period to maximize gains for the first years of certified organic production (for example, by building soil nitrogen)

Researchers from Idaho and Washington examined 9 different organic systems over 5 years. The first three years were a transition period, different for each system. Year 4 and 5 (both certified organic) were spring wheat followed by winter wheat for all systems.

System 1 had exclusively cereals during the transition periods, while System 9 relied on an alfalfa-oat mix for the entire three years. All other systems included a mix of legumes (for grain or plowed down for green manure) and cereals.

The lesson from the experiment? Stay away from grains during the transition period. The system relying on three years of alfalfa not only minimized losses, but also increased revenue during the certified organic years. Alfalfa increased nitrogen levels and provided weed control, which resulted in greater wheat yields during years 4 and 5, right when the crop could be sold with the organic price premium.

To learn more about alternative transition systems, take a look at this poster: Profitable Strategies for Transitioning to Organic.

 

Does Organic Production Result in Lower Protein Content?

Environmental conditions impact grain quality parameters. For example, soil available nitrogen can affect protein content. Do organic management practices result in lower protein content? If that’s the case, is the end product quality at risk? Researchers from Washington State University and Montana State University compared quality of organic versus conventional wheat. Their findings on protein content are presented in this post.

In Montana, scientists looked at hard red spring wheat. Protein content of hard red wheat tended to be lower in organic than in conventional systems, but that was a consequence of fertility regime: if the organic crop was preceded by winter pea instead of spring pea, the gain of soil nitrogen was enough to bridge the protein % gap with conventionally grown wheat. Researchers also looked at bread loaf volume, which is directly related to protein content. Again, it tended to be lower (a sign of low protein content) for organically grown wheat, but bread loaf volume from high-fertility organic systems was as high as bread loaf volume from conventional systems.

In Washington, researchers compared soft white winter wheat produced under conventional and organic systems. Protein content was lower for wheat grown in low-fertility organic systems. It was equivalent for conventionally grown wheat and wheat grown under a high-fertility organic regime. Low protein content is desirable in soft wheat, as it results in higher sponge cake volume (a typical end-product of soft white wheat flour). For soft white wheat, low-fertility organic practices had the advantage: they resulted in a low protein wheat which produced a high volume sponge cake.

To bank on highest quality for all class of wheat, sound organic practices should supply as much nitrogen as possible for a  hard red wheat crop, and less so for a soft white wheat year. Use your rotation to achieve this tough challenge: if using cover crop to supply nitrogen to your organic system, follow the cover crop with hard red wheat to capture a maximum of the protein and the premium. Have a soft white following the hard red to take advantage of the diminished nitrogen supply.

To learn more about grain quality under organic management, consult these posters: Pat Fuerst Tilth poster 2011 and Wheat Quality in Organic, No-till and Conventional Cropping Systems

You can also consult the Soil Management page for more information on cover crops and soil nitrogen in organic systems.

Building Soil N during the Transition Period: Is More Green Manure Best?

In our region where manure is hard to find, legumes are necessary to build soil fertility in organic production. But water can be scarce and the lack of moisture make it challenging to use cover crops (planting a legume then go into a small grain the same year) or intercropping (planting a legume between the wheat rows for example, and take out the legume later in the season).

Ideally, the first crop that is certifiable organic should have the best yield potential to reap the benefits of the organic price premium. One way to achieve good levels of soil nitrogen on that first certified year is to make sure to build it up during the transition period. Using legumes plowed into the soil instead of being harvested, or “green manure” is an efficient way to achieve that.

So is it preferable to maximize legumes on the transition period? Are three years under green manure better than two or one?

Kristy Borelli and other researchers compared different transition phase rotations: out of 9 different systems, two included 3 years of grain, two included two years of grain followed by one year of green manure, two included one year of grain followed by two years of green manure and one included three straight years of green manure.

At the end of the transition period, the researchers compared the total gain in nitrogen: it was higher for any rotation that had at least one year of green manure. Three years of green manure resulted in slightly higher levels of N than rotations with only one or two years of green manure. More importantly, spring wheat in the first certified organic year was higher after three years of green manure than after one or two; but winter wheat yield on the second year of the certified organic phase was no different whether the transition had had one, two or three years of green manure. Protein levels in spring or winter wheat were the highest in any rotation than had had one, two or three years of green manure.

Bottom line: successive years of green manure in the rotation to transition to organic are likely not necessary. A transition phase rotation should plan on a green manure legume for at least its last year: rotations that only had small grain translated in lower soil N levels, lower yields and lower protein content in the certified organic phase.

To go further: read more about this study here and here.

 

Table from Kristy Borelli
Rotation systems experimented for transitioning to organic. Table from Kristy Borelli
Washington State University