Alternative proteins for organic meat and milk production

2006 Annual Report for SW05-061

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2005: $63,565.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: Western
State: Oregon
Principal Investigator:
Mike Gamroth
Oregon State University

Alternative proteins for organic meat and milk production


Protein crops grown locally without chemicals would reduce the cost of producing organic milk and meat. Protein crops would also provide an alternative to farmers seeking replacements for traditional crops and production methods. This project is evaluating the yields and cultural requirements of organically grown chickpeas, field peas, and soybeans. Plots have been grown with and without irrigation, yields recorded, nutrient content measured, and economic potential determined. Field-scale crop production and animal feeding trials will follow in 2006-7.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Develop alternative crops, especially those high in protein, which can be grown organically by local farmers and used in the region by local animal producers.


In an effort to save a year of crop growth, the project leader self-funded planting three selected varieties of soybeans at the Malheur Experiment Station in Ontario, Oregon. Irrigated yields of 30 soybean varieties have been monitored at the Station for five years. The best yielding, hardy varieties were chosen for the continuing work in developing protein sources for livestock producers.

The increase in the market for organic foods, including organic dairy products, has increased the demand for organically produced animal feed. This trial tested three of the most promising soybean cultivars developed at Malheur Experiment Station (MES) for performance under organic production.

Materials and Methods
The soybean trial was conducted on an Owyhee silt loam (pH of 7.5, 1.9 percent organic matter) previously planted to wheat. The field was disked twice, moldboard plowed, ground hogged twice, and bedded to 30-inch rows in the spring of 2005.

Three Oregon State University soybean lines were planted in plots 4 beds wide by 25 ft long. The plots were arranged in a randomized complete block design with six replicates. The seed was planted on June 2 at 200,000 seeds/acre in 3 rows on each 30-inch bed using a plot drill with disk openers. The rows were spaced 7 inches apart (Fig. 1). Rhizobium japonicum soil implant inoculant was applied in the seed furrow at planting along with the seed. Emergence started on June 10. The trial was irrigated with a mini-sprinkler system (R10 Turbo Rotator, Nelson Irrigation Corp., Walla Walla, WA). Risers were spaced 25 ft apart along the flexible polyethylene hose laterals that were spaced 30 ft apart and the water application rate was 0.10 in/hr.

The field was irrigated when the soil water tension at 8-inch depth reached 50 centibars (cb). Soil water tension was monitored by six granular matrix sensors (GMS, Watermark Soil Moisture Sensors Model 200SS, Irrometer Co., Riverside, CA) installed in the bed center at 8-inch depth. Sensors were automatically read three times a day with an AM-400 meter (Mike Hansen Co., East Wenatchee, WA). The last irrigation was on September 10.

The field was hand weeded on July 8 and on July 19. The field was sprayed with Aza-Direct® (azadirachtin) at 0.025 lb ai/ac and Success® (spinosad) at 0.19 lb ai/ac on July 21, July 29, August 3, August 17, and August 26 for control of lygus bugs, stinkbugs, and spider mites. Aza-Direct and Success are approved for organic crop production according to the Organic Materials Review Institute (O.M.R.I., Eugene, OR).

The middle two beds in each four-bed plot were harvested on October 10 using a Wintersteiger Nurserymaster small plot combine. Beans were cleaned, weighed, and a sub-sample was oven dried to determine moisture content. Samples of each cultivar were sent to Oregon State University for analysis of crude fat and crude protein. Crude fat was analyzed using ether extraction and crude protein was analyzed using a copper catalyst Kjeldahl method. Moisture at the time of analysis was determined by oven drying at 100°C for 24 hours. Dry bean yields, crude fat, and crude protein were corrected to 13 percent moisture. Variety yield and seed counts were compared by analysis of variance. Means separation was determined by the protected least significant difference test.

Results and Discussion
Yields in 2005 ranged from 55.7 bu/ac for ‘M9’ to 57.2 bu/ac for ‘M12’ (Table 1).
Yields in this trial were substantially lower than for the same cultivars in a trial under conventional production practices in another field at MES. Yield differences between the conventional and organic systems may be explained by differences in irrigation systems, soil types, and planting dates. The conventional system was furrow irrigated. Lack of experience in irrigating soybeans with the mini-sprinkler system resulted in a drier average soil water tension for the organic system (34.4 cb) than the conventional furrow irrigation system (28.2 cb). The field used for the organic system had soil with a history of lower productivity than soil used in the conventional production system. The later planting date of the organic soybeans resulted in emergence 10 days later than the conventional soybeans, so the soybeans developed during a later and less favorable time of year. The conventional soybeans reached maturity on September 6, and the organic soybeans reached maturity on September 16. In spite of these differences, it is clearly feasible to produce organic soybeans at Ontario, Oregon.

Table 1. Performance of soybean cultivars under organic production in 2005. Yield, crude fat, and crude protein were corrected to 13 percent moisture, Malheur Experiment Station, Oregon State University, Ontario, OR.
Cultivar Origin Seed weight Yield Crude fat Crude protein
seeds/lb bu/acre % %
M9 M92-330 2,522 55.7 21.5 35.8
M12 M92-330 2,441 57.2 21.0 35.6
106 M92-085 2,486 56.0 20.9 34.3
LSD (0.05) NS NS NS NS

In late October 2005, varieties of winter field peas were planted in dryland plots at the Columbia Basin Ag Research Center near Pendleton, OR. Grain yields of the winter pea varieties ranged from 1900 to 3000 lb/ac. Spring peas produced about 700 to 1100 lb/ac at Pendleton and 300 to 600 lb/ac at Moro. Winter pea lines yield 1200 to 1900 lb/ac more than spring types. The variety ‘Universal’ appears to yield well under both dry and wet years but the yield was not significantly different from Badminton and Mozart under dry and wet conditions. We therefore will recommend all three varieties to growers.

Production returns
Price ranges from $5.50 to >$11.00/cwt result in potential gross returns of $82.50 to $165.00/1500 lb/ac.

With soybeans at the current farm price of $6.35 a bushel, income would be $355 per acre.

Based on the yield and composition data, the best soybean variety and field pea variety will be grown in acre plots in 2006 for an animal feeding trial later in 2007. A request for a no-cost extension to the proposed timeline has been approved.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Soybeans and winter peas are a potentially valuable new crop for Oregon. Soybean could provide a high quality protein for animal nutrition and oil for human consumption, both of which are in short supply in the Pacific Northwest. In addition, edible or vegetable soybean production could provide a raw material for specialized food products. Soybean is a valuable rotation crop because of the soil-improving qualities of its residues and its nitrogen (N2) -fixing capability. Because of the high-value irrigated crops typically grown in the Snake River Valley, soybeans may be economically feasible only at high yields. Locally grown proteins could cut the cost of protein for organic livestock production by half while giving local organic growers a reasonable value crop for rotation on irrigated and non-irrigated land.


Stephen Machado
Assistant professor
Oregon State University
P.O. Box 370
Pendleton, OR 97801
Office Phone: 5412784186
Clint Shock

Oregon State University
Malhuer Experiment Station
Ontario, OR 97914
Dan Bansen
Forest Glen Jerseys
5801 Bansen Lane
Dayton, OR 97114
Office Phone: 5034726342