Spring Season Extension Efficiency in Cool, Short Season Climates

Progress report for RGR20-011

Project Type: Research to Grass Roots
Funds awarded in 2020: $68,486.00
Projected End Date: 12/15/2023
Host Institution Award ID: G253-21-W7906
Grant Recipients: Oregon State University; High Desert Food and Farm Alliance; Modoc Harvest ; USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service- Alturas Office
Region: Western
State: Oregon
Principal Investigator:
Nicole Sanchez
Oregon State University
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Project Information

Abstract:

In cool, short-season growing climates, Season Extension (SE) is a necessity for produce growers supplying local foods. In Klamath Falls, a generation of newer produce growers seek to meet increasing demand using SE. While the growers possess a general understanding of SE and its functions, lack of growing experience in the harsh and unique climate and lack of actionable, region specific best practices make SE production “trial and error”.

Meanwhile, demand for local produce in the area is increasing: numerous local food development projects are in progress in the community, including multiple participants and approaches that greatly increase opportunities and potential for these producers. These include grant funded Farm to School projects, development of a food hub (KFOM), local food policy councils and collaborative teams under the umbrella of the Blue Zones Project, and South Central Oregon Economic Development District. Food access and food hub feasibility studies have been done within the community in the last two years. Unusually, a significant number of stars are aligned to provide markets to small scale produce growers in addition to the thriving, but seasonal, Farmers’ Market.

Our project builds on SE research in similar climates, focusing on collection of environmental data to inform decision making re planting dates, choice of SE treatment, predicting maturity, and increasing yield. Participating growers see increased efficiency in their use of SE as key to meeting developing demand in our community. Through coordinated tracking of key temperature and weather points, collaborating on three key crops, networking with growers in similar environments, and visiting their operations, we will enable these producers to better meet the demand we are simultaneously building. Abundant relevant SARE- funded previous research, momentum of growth in both supply and demand, and demonstrated cross-profession and cross-organization teamwork in the community position us uniquely for success.

Project Objectives:
  1. A). Track key environmental data in different SE applications (high tunnel, low tunnel, multiple) on three farms – one out of town in plains, two in suburbs of Klamath Falls, for three spring seasons. B). Compile data for better understanding of how SE is functioning on farms.
  2. A). Track harvest dates, number of harvest, yield, and DTM for three specific crops, one three farms, for three spring seasons. Compare direct seed to transplant, SE vs. not using SE. One crop will be leafy greens: the others to be determined by farmer consensus in planning meeting. B). Compile this data to inform best practices for these crops using SE in our region.
  3. A) Refresh the opportunity for grower networking established in project FW 15-029 by hosting bi-annual, web- based grower networking meetings including grower communities in the Bend, OR, Modoc County, CA, and Klamath Falls areas.
  4. Produce a day-long educational event for produce growers, sharing information and lessons learned from this project and other research relevant to interior PNW growers. An on-site farm visit experience will be provided for Klamath growers in the Bend, OR area.
Introduction:

Ongoing local foods work in Klamath Falls produced a recent food access assessment and food hub feasibility study (to which PI was a contributor), providing relevant insight and direction from both consumer and producer prospectives. There is established demand for more local produce, further increased by recent Farm to School grants. The Food hub Feasibility study identified increasing capacity of existing producers and their hub platform, KFOM, as key.

Three previous SARE grant projects inform the design and scope of this project: ONC 15-0018, LNC15-373, and FW 15-029. All involve concerns of growers using SE in cold, short season climates.

Our project design is similar to ONC 15-0018, for a different climate, and focuses on spring SE rather than fall. Growers in LNC 15-373 had no motivation for advancing spring harvest before Farmers’ Market season; our growers have a variety of market options early in the year. We will closely track only three crops rather than a wide variety. ONC- 15-008 was designed to include multiple SE techniques across farms; we’ll use a similar setup, capitalizing on their experiences with tracking equipment and data collection.

Crucial to project success are regular monitoring of tracking equipment and accurate accounting of crop progress and yield. While ONC 15-0018 had moderate success with farmer reporting, LNC 15-373 noted significant data gaps due to farmer challenges, matching this projects team’s previous experience with farmer-collected data. Our participants are one-person operations. To avoid overburdening our partners in an already compressed growing season, we include funds covering Extension staff time (i.e., program assistant) for on-farm presence to collect data, ensure trackers/ monitors are working properly, and maintain constant contact between participants.

Also critical is acknowledging growers’ time sacrifice and opportunity cost in a multi-year project. These one-person operations, willing to contribute to the body of SE knowledge for the regional agricultural community, should be compensated. The grower partner stipend in our budget represents a contribution toward costs of meeting time, seed and inputs for the tracked crops, and the educational event at project end.

We request funding sufficient for multiple years of spring SE data collection. Moisture, temperature, and effects from previous snow events vary widely in our range from one spring to the next: in environmental monitoring work in Oregon, year is often the most statistically significant factor. We seek to take best advantage of this opportunity to develop best practices by having as many seasons as reasonable to collect information.

A specific example of how our project is directly applicable to local producers: county wide “tastings” of locally produced items are delivered at schools by Extension nutrition staff through Farm to School. The local producer providing this product must be confident of their ability to deliver in a specific, pre- scheduled week- difficult with the wildly variable weather common to our area. A single, but substantial bulk order like Farm to School tastings represent a unique opportunity for a grower to step into a wholesale market on a manageable scale.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Rachel Bentley - Producer
  • Lauren Gwin (Educator)
  • Bryon Hadwick (Educator)
  • Leah Larson (Educator)
  • Kent Simons - Producer
  • Clare Sullivan (Educator)
  • Katie Swanson - Producer
  • Laurie Wayne (Educator)
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.