Evaluation and Design of Low-Input Sustainable Vegetable/Small Grain and Small Fruit Systems of Western Oregon and Washington

1988 Annual Report for LW88-001

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1988: $404,105.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1990
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $441,030.00
Region: Western
State: Oregon
Principal Investigator:
Richard Dick
Oregon State University

Evaluation and Design of Low-Input Sustainable Vegetable/Small Grain and Small Fruit Systems of Western Oregon and Washington


1.Develop a preliminary compendia of information and resources of existing sustainable production methods for dissemination in a Resource Guide and newsletter.

2.Conduct educational activities on sustainable agriculture that will provide opportunities for dialogue and information transfer among producers, researchers, extension personnel, private industry, and consumers

3.Determine the range and extent of alternative vegetable and small fruit systems in relation to conventional systems.

4.Examine whole farm systems from an ecological and multi-disciplinary perspective to provide a basis for future research to design efficient, economical, and more sustainable systems.

5.To develop and evaluate new mechanisms of involving farmers and scientists as partners in designing, conducting and evaluating on-farm demonstrations of alternative cropping systems.

6.To facilitate communication and understanding among farmers, scientists, and other interest groups on alternative strategies for managing cropping systems in western Washington and Oregon.

The project was initiated in 1988 and completed in 1994. During Phase I (1988-1991) extensive surveys, whole farm case studies and extension activities were conducted in relation to sustainable agriculture. A 236-page Resource Guide for sustainable agriculture was produced for farmers and ag. professionals to assist them in locating and accessing existing sources of information. A quarterly newsletter was initiated and continues beyond the life of this project with a circulation of 2,000 plus. Team members have developed and extensively used innovative methods (e.g. focus sessions and interactive conferences and workshops) to involve diverse groups in extension activities, on-farm and station research design and implementation, and involvement in the land grant system in relation to promoting sustainable agriculture. The highly successful Farming for Profit and Stewardship has been a highly visible and important vehicle for sustainable agriculture in the Pacific Northwest. Surveys and in-depth studies have addressed marketing issues of organic produce, economic performance of alternative systems, extent and adoption of more sustainable practices, and classification of growers in relation to sustainability according to farm structure and farming practices.

Whole farm case studies were conducted over a three year period by an interdisciplinary team that included farm visits by biological and social scientists. Findings of these studies include that: generally labor costs are higher on organic farms; IPM is used very little on farms due to complexity of management and labor costs; Pacific Northwest farmers are difficult to classify into sustainability rankings; and large farms are more likely to use crop rotations and minimum tillage whereas small farms are more likely to substitute labor for chemical inputs.

During Phase II there was: continuation of extensive educational/co-learning activities; emphasis on institutionalization of sustainable agriculture in the land grant system and main stream agriculture; and establishment of on-farm research and demonstration projects. In both Western WA and OR active on-farm research programs are in place with emphasis on cover crops for protecting groundwater and promoting soil quality, and formal sustainable agriculture programs have begun in Oregon and Washington.

Through station and on-farm research cover crop species and management systems have been identified and characterized for nitrogen accumulation and availability.

A major accomplishment of the overall project has been to decrease the polarization among diverse groups and there appears to be an emerging consensus for the agricultural and environmental/consumer groups to work together to promote an agriculture that is environmentally sound, profitable and has positive social impacts. Written products have included Extension Fact Sheets, how-to guides for focus sessions and whole-farm case studies, refereed journal articles, resource guides, Experiment Station Technical Reports, proceedings, book chapters, and numerous miscellaneous reports.

Potential Contributions
Through organized events such as conferences, workshops, lectures and written communications (newsletters, reports, etc.) the project has made significant progress in increasing the level of awareness on sustainable agriculture issues in the Pacific Northwest.

Socio-economic analysis has identified issues related to: off-farm purchased inputs; labor availability and management; computer applications to management; development of value-added opportunities; and increased public interest in food, environmental, and agricultural policies.

The process of conducting the Whole Farm Case Study has been effective in developing a better understanding of vegetable and small fruit systems and in documenting strengths and weaknesses of alternative systems. Unexpected innovations of farmers were discovered through this study, which have been shared with other farmers and scientists throughout the region and in several areas of the country.
The Minto-Brown Island Park project has been very successful in coordinating field days with farmers to demonstrate alternative management practices and also serves to provide educational opportunities for school groups in the Salem, Oregon area. Because of its unique location near a major urban center it has been a real opportunity to provide information to the urban sector that shows a proactive approach toward environmental and resource management issues by the diverse members of the agricultural community.
This project has had a major impact on the land grant systems of Oregon and Washington. It resulted in interdisciplinary activity among extension and research personnel in collaboration with farmers which had not really previously happened at these institutions. Because of the activities of the Team we have earned a level of legitimacy for sustainable agriculture that did not exist five years ago. The just completed study (Land Grant University Agricultural and Natural Resources Research: Perceptions and Influence of External Interest Groups) investigates the role of university personnel, established organizations (commodity and ag. industry), and consumer/environmental organizations, in affecting research and extension activities in relation to sustainable agriculture at OSU, WSU, and University of Idaho

Farmer Adoption
Interactive and partnership approaches for farmer forums, focus groups, farmer/scientist focus sessions, and conferences have been effective in sharing and communicating innovative practices and experiences among farmers, interest groups, and university and government agency personnel. Involvement of farmers in identifying present constraints and opportunities for alternative systems has been important in setting research priorities that are more likely to have practical applications.

We have seen a dramatic increase in the use of cover crops in Western Oregon and Washington in the past two years. Farmers are using them to: control erosion; capture excess nitrogen and prevent its potential to pollute ground and surface water and for use by subsequent crops; and to improve soil tilth.
There has been a change in how scientists and growers solve problems. It is now a much more interactive approach and farmers' ideas for solving problems or designing research are much more likely to be a part of the process.

Farmer Comments
"Farmers are always fooling around with their own experiments, but they don't get data that other farmers can use. Or maybe they get a false perception of what they did. This project is set up to get better information we [farmers] can really use".
- Keith Grover, Salem, OR, cooperating farmer for on-farm research
"The focus group has broadened my insights to some of the problems we have to face in the future if agriculture is to remain in the Skagit Valley and some other urban areas in western Washington."
- Skagit County [WA] Cropping Strategies and Water Quality Focus Group member
Reported in 1995