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Washington Researchers Get $1 Million Grant to Look at Dryland Organics

September 30, 2009
[Source: Western Farmer Stockman]

Replacing costly chemicals with new crop rotations and no-till technology to raise dryland grain crops organically will come under the microscopes of Washington State University scientists working with a new $1 million fund.

The dollars, flowing from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Integrated Organic Program, will add “an important new dimension to our organic agriculture program,” says Dan Bernardo, WSU College of Agriculture, Human and Natural Resource Sciences dean.

“While we received a lot of publicity last year for being the first in the country to offer a four-year degree in organic ag, we have been conducting research of organic systems for years,” he adds. “This grant allows us to continue leading the way in translating some of the most economically-sound practices of organics to dryland cropping systems.”

WSU researchers are working to make organic dryland wheat production agronomically and economically successful to benefit growers and the environment, says Rich Koenig, co-principal investigator for the grant, and chair of the CAHNRS Department of Crop and Soil Sciences.

The research will probe weed control, soil fertility and economics of growing wheat organically.  Primary tools include the use of seven different rotation crops, such as alfalfa which helps fight weeds and fixes nitrogen in the soil.

Organic alfalfa is highly prized among organic livestock producers, and prices could help improve the returns for growers using dryland cropping systems. Dry peas, another rotation crop in the project, serve as a green manure fertilizer.

The research team, which will work in Oregon and Idaho as well as Washington, is gearing up for a launch of the new study this fall.

The scientists will also examine effectiveness of using minimal invasive tillage on the project as a way to control weeds and minimize soil erosion.

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