Interest in organic agriculture continues to grow due to its potential to remedy numerous environmental, human health, and economic issues attributed to conventional farming. However, organic production presents unique region- and crop-specific challenges. Growers need practical information on high-value organic cropping systems and other practices to design and manage organic production systems with increased resource-use efficiencies. Due to its high market value and diverse physiological traits, quinoa can be a highly competitive crop, and possibly an anchor crop, for growers to include in organic dryland rotations, especially in the Palouse region of eastern Washington and northern Idaho. In March 2013, this organic research project was established on a 527-ha commercial grain farm, the Zakarison Partnership in the Palouse region of eastern Washington. This replicated study is being conducted on a 1.2-ha parcel with 8 rotation trials to measure the sustainability of various organic grain rotations with and without quinoa. Farmers are interested in growing organic quinoa and grains in the Palouse, but little scientific information is available to help them. The goal of this systems study is to improve the competitiveness and adoption by growers of organic quinoa and grains in a mainstream conventional grain-producing region of the Pacific Northwest. By conducting integrated on-farm crop rotation research and education, this project will fill critical knowledge gaps that exist regarding dryland organic crop rotations, including the introduction of quinoa. This study uses a transdisciplinary approach with farmers (Eric and Sheryl Zakarison) and interdisciplinary scientists managing the study site together. Project objectives include measuring the following agroecosystem components: crop yield and quality; insect pests and their natural enemies; weed populations and management; soil fertility and other properties; interactions with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF); and economic performance. Objectives also include developing outreach and educational materials and venues for growers and stakeholders, including field days, webinars, social media posts, and academic presentations, factsheets, and journal publications. Additionally, a Stakeholder Advisory Group (SAG) has been assembled to help manage and evaluate the project.
This study takes a systems perspective to evaluate the effects of diversifying organic crop rotations with quinoa. Agroecological parameters that directly and indirectly affect the sustainability of organic cropping systems are being measured. By conducting integrated on-farm research and educational outreach, this project will fill critical knowledge gaps regarding dryland organic crop rotations, including the introduction of quinoa.
Objective 1: Evaluate the agronomic performance of the cropping sequences of each treatment
Sub-objective 1a: Quantify crop productivity and quality
Sub-objective 1b: Determine abundance and diversity of insect pests and their natural enemies
Sub-objective 1c: Evaluate weed populations and management strategies
Objective 2: Assess soil chemical, physical, and biological properties under each treatment
Sub-objective 2a: Track soil fertility and related properties throughout the crop sequence treatments
Sub-objective 2b: Quantify colonization and carryover of AMF in crops/soil throughout the sequences
Objective 3: Measure the economic performance of the different organic quinoa and grain cropping sequence treatments
Objective 4: Disseminate project information to producers, consumers, extension agents, and students through field days, extension bulletins, webinars, and meetings
Objective 1: Quantify crop productivity and quality. Crops were planted and harvested as described in Table 1. Field preparation consisted of using an undercutter (sweep) to terminate alfalfa, and in later years light disking and rotary harrowing to prepare the seedbed for planting. Yields were calculated at the end of each growing season and will be presented in the final report.
Objective 2: Determine population densities of pests (aphids and lygus bugs) and their natural enemies. Insects were collected from all plots 2-3 times each growing season (only 2 sampling times in 2015 because of a short growing season). Insects from each collection are sorted and counted.
Objective 3: Assess status and change of soil quality and fertility. Soil samples were taken from all plots of Entry 1 in spring 2013 (10 May) and subjected to each of the analyses described in the proposal, including completing all fertility analyses, N mineralization potential, microbial biomass by fumigation (soluble C and N) and respiration methods, and particle size analysis of the top 30 cm (0-10 cm and 10-30 cm). Subsamples were subjected to DNA extraction and frozen for future analysis. Inorganic N content of the soil profile to 1.5 m was also extracted. Post-harvest samples were taken in fall 2013 and extractions performed to evaluate inorganic N levels. We also analyzed aggregate size distribution on fall soil samples. This additional analysis (not in original proposal) was added based on observations from local producers about possible soil structure change following quinoa cultivation. We will continue to evaluate aggregate size distribution of soils in each plot after each year of the crop rotation.
In 2014 the second entry of the rotation sequence began, bringing the total to 96 plots. Surface (0-10 and 10-30 cm) soil samples taken from Entry 2 in spring of 2014 were sent to Soiltest Farm Consultants for the complete fertility analysis. Additionally, all of the fertility and biological tests described above were performed on soil samples from all 96 plots. Subsurface soil sampling to 1.5m was analyzed for inorganic nutrient content. Post-harvest soil samples were also taken from the surface 30 cm and subjected to inorganic N extraction and analysis of aggregate-size distribution.
Soil sampling was performed again in spring 2015; all plots were sampled to a depth of 1.5 m for accounting of inorganic N in the soil profile. Subsamples from the surface (0-10 and 10-30 cm) were also analyzed for P content, N mineralization potential, microbial biomass C & N, and respiration incubations, as performed each year. Post harvest samples were taken from the surface 30 cm and are being analyzed for inorganic nitrogen and aggregate size distribution.
Soil sampling in spring 2016 and subsequent analyses were completed as in previous years. Subsamples from Entry 1 were sent to Soiltest for the comprehensive soil fertility testing, as that entry set of plots completed the full 3-year sequence testing.
The final soil sampling of Entry 2 plots occurred in Spring 2017. Subsamples were sent to Soiltest Farm consultants for the comprehensive fertility testing, and the remaining analyses are being currently being completed by PhD candidate Wieme.
Objective 4: Evaluate and quantify colonization of AMF. Root samples for all crops were collected from all Entry 1 plots (n = 40) in 2014 at the time of peak vegetation before crop maturity (July). Roots were processed as described in the proposal and visual counts of colonization of AMF were performed. The process was repeated for all plots in 2015 (n = 88) and 2016 (n = 40). Preliminary data from 2015 and 2016 show positive colonization of AMF in quinoa roots, but lower compared to other crops.
Objective 5: Measure the economic performance of the different farming systems. Data, such as input costs, equipment used, and time required for each field operation, were collected to create enterprise budgets that will determine the profitability of each treatment (rotation sequence) The detailed budgets have been comprised, and are currently being analyzed by Ms. Wieme.
Objective 6: Disseminate our findings to farmers, agricultural professionals, consumers, and research and extension agencies. Our activities towards objective 6 are described in the “Outreach & Education Activities” section.
Results will be shared in the final report.
Educational & Outreach Activities
We utilized of a number of opportunities to communicate with farmers, agricultural professionals, and research and extension agencies about this project.
Multiple field tours of our research plots have been given to interested parties, including Zach Wailand (Dharma Ridge Farms, Quilicine, WA), Ian Clark (Clark Family Farms, Pullman, WA), and a group of 6 company leaders from Lundberg Family Farms (Chico, CA). Drs. Murphy and Carpenter-Boggs and Ms. Wieme shared information from this project at the Eggert Family Organic Farm Field day in July 2014, which highlighted quinoa research for the region.
This project was featured in two more field days during the summer 2015. Ms. Wieme presented on this project during a Tilth Producer’s farm walk at the Zakarison Partnership, which included a tour of the research plots for the 33 attendees. Ms. Wieme also presented on this project (again, including a field tour of the plots), with additional focus on the AMF component, during a Soil Biology Workshop (“One-day University”) led by Dr. Carpenter-Boggs and organized by Tilth Producers of Washington, which boasted 28 participants.
Ms. Wieme gave a presentation and field tour to representatives from High Mowing Organic Seeds in 2016. Additionally, Dr. Reganold and Ms. Wieme gave interviews and demonstrations at the field site as part of an upcoming film documentary examining various agricultural practices (organic, no-till, and conventional) in the United States. The company conducting the interviews and producing the film is IFA MEDIA from Taipei, Taiwan and Bangkok, Thailand, with the film being directed by Yen-Ming Lai (Spencer) of Public TV Service in Taipei, Taiwan.
Ongoing outreach continues through our project webpage, which features the project description, links to the research team biographies, photos of the field site, announcements/events, and links to other relevant websites and information. The webpage can be found at: http://csanr.wsu.edu/organic-quinoa-production/
The results and final outreach for this project are still in preparation. However, we have gained significant knowledge and expect more benefits from final stages of this project.
The benefits and impacts we have seen and will continue to share include the following:
Short-Term: We are continually increasing the amount of information known about the challenges and benefits of growing quinoa in this region, including planting rates and dates, interactions with weeds, post-harvest processing, the effects on soil quality, and economic implications. With the help of this project, the acreage of quinoa in the region has continually expanded over the past 4 years. This project has also provided feedback to other researchers working with quinoa, both by providing insight on overcoming the agronomic challenges and also by providing many more questions for future research.
Intermediate-Term: We expect to have a better understanding of how large-scale dryland organic farming operations can be productive and economically viable by incorporating quinoa in crop rotations. As researchers and producers work together to create locally adapted varieties of quinoa, we expect not only organic but also conventional producers in the Palouse to take advantage of the opportunity to diversify their cropping systems with quinoa and, in turn, their income base.
Long-Term: There is good potential for a more diversified agricultural landscape in the Palouse region as more farmers become aware of the opportunities that quinoa and organic cropping systems provide. We expect to see locally grown quinoa appearing at farmers markets and in local food co-ops. Knowledge and adoption of organic quinoa and grain production will spread outside the Palouse region and throughout the Northwest as a result of this integrated research and extension project. New crops and systems will strengthen the economic and social resilience of rural communities. Adoption of organic and conservation practices that meet environmental stewardship goals will improve environmental services of the agricultural landscape.