Integrating research and practice in systems management of organic vegetable farms

2014 Annual Report for SW13-017

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2013: $277,430.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Western
State: Oregon
Principal Investigator:
Dr. ALEXANDRA STONE
Oregon State University

Integrating research and practice in systems management of organic vegetable farms

Summary

We are collecting and analyzing long-term pest and soil management records and on-farm data from five successful, innovative organic farms with 20 or more years of records/data. One year into this project, we are gaining clarity about what is useful about Farm System Descriptions and Farm System Analyses, and why studying whole systems has so much to teach us.

Long-term organic farms are successful because they have developed effective whole-farm systems management strategies over time. On the successful organic farms in our project, pest and soil management approaches are based on the farm’s climate, location, marketing, and philosophy. To understand what is and is not working on these farms, the entire whole farm system needs to be taken into account. Our approach is to develop a detailed Farm System Description (FSD) for each farm that integrates each of the farmer’s perceptions about the long-term and immediate trends on his/her farm with compilation of long-term farm records and available on-farm data sets/experimental results. Using these FSDs, we are developing Farm System Analyses (FSAs) on whole farm system management practices that are and are not working well on the individual farms and across farms in our study. The strength of this approach is that it allows us to investigate soil and pest management tools and strategies in a whole farm context. The limitation is that it is difficult to tease out the effect of individual tools and strategies from an innovative whole farm system.

In 2013-14, this project engaged project farmers in project development and delivery; drafted five detailed FSDs and five FSAs; collected new on-farm insect, soil and disease data; developed and delivered insect, soil and disease surveys to farmers; and engaged farmers and agricultural professionals in the project findings.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Goal: to improve the sustainability of organic vegetable and fruit farms by facilitating adoption of effective ‘systems’ soil/pest management.

OBJECTIVE 1. Develop five detailed organic Farm System Descriptions (FSDs): *Persephone Farm. Lebanon, OR. http://tinyurl.com/bkmvevc *Winter Green Farm. Noti, OR. http://www.wintergreenfarm.com/ *Biodesign Farm. Stevensville, MT. *Pinnacle Farm. San Juan Bautista, CA. http://www.pinnacleorganic.com/ *Woodleaf Farm. Oroville, CA. http://woodleaffarm.com/

Studies will aggregate, integrate and analyze: • Data set 1: Farmer description of farm history, philosophy, markets, crops, systems management, record keeping and economics • Data set 2: Farmer-collected data (soils, crops, pests, labor, economics, etc) • Data set 3: Supplemental on-farm data collection (by project researchers: soils data, insect and disease scouting and diagnostics) • Data set 4: On-farm research data sets (past research projects conducted on case farm, if any) • Data set 5: Case study farmer’s knowledge and practices about systems soil/pest management strategies.

OBJECTIVE 2. Develop Farm System Analyses (FSAs) based on common trends, successes and problems drawn from case studies

Obj 2a. From case studies as a group, identify most important trends, successes and problems related to systems management (examples drawn from our work developing the Persephone Farm case study this summer and from our preliminary conversations with other case study farmers)
Obj 2b. Data set 4: Conduct literature review related to the most important trends/stories (compiled by researcher project members).
Obj 2c. Data set 5: Analyze on-farm data and records and make their findings available to organic farmers, extension agents and researchers through a “Multiyear Organic Trials and Homegrown Experimental Research – Lost Organic Data Excavation” (MOTHER-LODE) initiative. Bill Snyder and his postdoctoral scholar (with a math/statistics background) will conduct this work. This data will inform the Farm Systems Analysis Case Studies and will also be prepared for publication in scientific journals and on eOrganic.
Obj 2d. Develop detailed Farm System Analyses (FSAs) describing each important trend/success/problem, integrating case study information, literature review and MOTHERLODE analysis findings.

OBJECTIVE 3. Review and discuss case studies and stories

Obj 3a. Review farm case studies and stories (by project case study farmers, researchers, extension professionals and consultants, as well as others with critical expertise)
Obj. 3b. Discuss case studies and stories. Convene farmers and other project members to discuss and troubleshoot farm case studies during a two day face-to-face winter meeting.

OBJECTIVE 4. Describe farmers’ knowledge and practices related to systems soil/pest management strategies and how these strategies impact sustainability. We will examine the “cultural models” of farmers with different management strategies within a systems approach and explore the barriers to systems management adoption.

OBJECTIVE 5. Develop educational materials and publish them through eOrganic/eXtension.

OBJECTIVE 6. Engage farmers/agricultural professionals in systems soil/pest management learning, with in-person discussion (ie., case farmer and project member “systems-approach ambassadors” will attend farmer and professional conferences and workshops, “virtual, on-line farm tours” and forum discussion through eOrganic/eXtension).

OBJECTIVE 7. Evaluate impact on farmer and agricultural professional knowledge/intentions/practices.

Future Work: This project represents two years of what might become a longer-term project.

Accomplishments/Milestones

Obj. 1.  Farm Systems Descriptions (FSDs)

Helen Atthowe developed a detailed draft FSD for each of the five farms and they are now under review by farmers and researchers.

  • Persephone (OR)
  • Wintergreen (OR)
  • BioDesign (MT)
  • Woodleaf (CA)
  • Pinnacle (CA)

Obj. 2.  Farm System Analyses (FSAs)

FSAs.  FSAs are detailed analyses of specific data sets and/or issues on individual farms and/or and across several farms. FSAs are reviewed by farmers and researchers. In the project’s first year, draft FSAs have been developed on these topics:

  • Off-Farm Nutrient Inputs Lead to Elevated Soil P and K Content on Long Term Organic Vegetable Farms
  • Closely-coupled Carbon: Nitrogen Cycling on Long Term Organic Farms
  • Cabbage Worm Suppression on Long Term Organic Vegetable Farms
  • Insect Suppression on Long Term Organic Vegetable Farms
  • Disease Incidence and Severity on Long Term Organic Vegetable Farms

On-farm data collection for FSAs:

Helen Atthowe collected soil and insect data at Woodleaf Farm in 2014. Alex Stone collected new disease incidence and severity data on western Oregon vegetable farms in 2013 and 2014. The WSU Snyder lab collected data associated with lepidopteran pests on farms in WA, OR and CA in 2014.

Obj. 3. Engage project farmers

The project convened all project farmers and staff in December 2013 to share farming systems information, discuss draft FSDs, and discuss and develop the project plan of work.

Obj. 4.  Farmer surveys

Bryan Tilt (OSU) worked with the group to develop farmer survey questions for insects, soils, and diseases. Helen used them at the New Mexico organic farming conference (February 2014). She also worked with CCOF to send the surveys to organic farmers in California.

Obj. 6. Engagement

February 14 and 15, 2014. New Mexico Organic Farming Conference, Albuquerque, NM. Helen Atthowe presented to 300 farmers, extension agents, and NM Dept. of Ag. Employees using data from Biodesign Farm’s FSA and FSAs. http://www.farmtotablenm.org/programs/new-mexico-organic-farming-conference/.

May 18, 2014.  CCOF Field Day at Woodleaf Farm. Carl Rosato and Helen Atthowe presented Woodleaf’s insect and soil management FSAs and results of an insect and soil management survey of North Valley CCOF chapter farmers.

August 13, 2014. Woodleaf Farm hosted scientists attending the Ecological Society of America 99th Annual Meeting in Sacramento on a tour called “Agroecology in Action.”  Carl Rosato and Helen Atthowe presented Woodleaf’s FSD and insect and soil management FSAs.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

In 2013-14, this project engaged project farmers in project development and delivery; drafted five detailed FSDs and five FSAs; collected new on-farm insect, soil and disease data; developed and delivered insect, soil and disease surveys to farmers; and engaged farmers and agricultural professionals in the project findings.

 

Collaborators:

Lewis Grant

lgrant3309@aol.com
Farmer
Grant family Farms
515 West County Road 72
Wellington, CO 80549
Bryan Tilt

bryan.tilt@oregonstate.edu
Associate Professor
Dept of Anthropology Oregon State University
209 Waldo Hall
Corvallis, OR 97331
Office Phone: 5417373896
Website: http://oregonstate.edu/cla/anthropology/faculty-staff/tilt
Jeff Falen

persephonefarm@earthlink.net
farmer
Persephone Farm
30291 Bates Lane
Lebanon, OR 97355
Office Phone: 5414515640
Ed Peachey

peacheye@hort.oregonstate.edu
Associate Professor
Dept of Horticulture Oregon State University
4017 ALS
Corvallis, OR 97331
Office Phone: 5417373152
Website: http://horticulture.oregonstate.edu/group/weed-science
Phil Foster

pfoster@pinnacleorganic.com
Farmer
Pinnacle Farm
P.O. Box 249
San Juan Bautista, CA 95045
Website: http://pinnacleorganic.com
Bill Snyder

wesnyder@wsu.edu
Professor
Washington State University
Dept of Entomology
Pullman, WA 99614
Office Phone: 5093353724
Website: http://entomology.wsu.edu/bill-snyder/
Helen Atthowe

hatthowe@gmail.com
Project Coordinator
4017 ALS
Dept of Horticulture
Corvallis, OR 97331
Office Phone: 5305891678
Louise Jackson

lejackson@ucdavis.edu
Professor
UC Davis
3144 Plant and Environmental Sciences Building
One Shields Ave
Davis, CA 95616
Office Phone: 5307549116
Website: http://ucanr.org/sites/Jackson_Lab/
Wali Via

walivia@wintergreenfarm.com
Farmer
Winter Green Farm
89762 Poodle Creek Rd.
Noti , OR 97461
Office Phone: 5419357676
Website: www.wintergreenfarm.com
Alice Formiga

formigaa@hort.oregonstate.edu
eOrganic coordinator
Dept of Horticulture Oregon State University
4017 ALS
Corvallis, OR 97331
Office Phone: 5417373483
Carl Rosato

woodleaffarm@sbcglobal.net
Farmer
Woodleaf Farm
6176 Old Olive Hwy
Ororville, CA 95966
Office Phone: 5305891696
Website: woodleaffarm.com
Doug O’Brien

obrienagriculture@sbcglobal.net
Agricultural Consultant
Doug O’Brien Agricultural Consulting
2714 Placer St
Santa Cruz, CA 95062
Office Phone: 8312120304