2015 25.1 Specialty Crop Programming



The 2014 annual conference included one symposium, eight workshops and two roundtable sessions offered specifically for specialty crop growers. These educational offerings were made possible through funding from the WSDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. Following is a recap of the topics covered in these sessions:


Holistic Management Symposium One of two day-long Friday symposia, Holistic Management for Specialty Crop Producers provided an opportunity for attendees to learn the framework of holistic management. Based on the holistic principles espoused by the Savory Institute and presented by Maurice Robinette (Pacific Northwest Center for Holistic Management), April Thatcher (April Joy Farm), and Beth Robinette (Lazy R Ranch), the symposia stressed the importance of ‘setting’ profit first and then matching expenses, and how to apply these principles to be financially successful.


Specialty Crop Workshops


Drip and Micro-Irrigation for Small-Scale Growers: Simple, Scalable Systems


Presented by irrigation consultant Howard Stenn of Stenn Designs, growers received information needed to design irrigation systems that save water, labor, and use appropriate materials. Howard brought examples of different types of irrigation tape, timers, and sprinklers for attendees to investigate for themselves. Planning and pre-testing to prevent failures was stressed. Howard also provided a plethora of resources for farmers to source irrigation hardware and materials.


Farming with Beneficial Insects: Ecological Strategies for Pest Management and Pollination


Eric Lee-Mader of the Xerces Society spoke about how to provide habitat for beneficial insects. Despite sharing the rather dismal news of the continued loss of native pollinators, Eric also illuminated ways in which hedgerows and native flowering plants in pollination strips will promote habitat. Native plantings that support habitat for wild pollinators, such as bumble bees, can actually have a greater impact on orchard fruit set than with nonnative honey bees. Eric detailed the use of solarization to clear space to establish plantings of native flower plants as well as to build beetle banks.


Fundamentals of Seed Production


One of the tricky parts of being a vegetable producer in the Pacific Northwest is finding suitable varieties to grow. As Caitlin Moore of the Olympia Seed Exchange explained, seed saving is one of the best ways to discover and propagate suitable vegetables on a farm operation. Caitlin reviewed the entire seed production process from plant biology through seed storage. “Plants are promiscuous” was a playful saying Caitlin used to illustrate the importance of planning ahead and creating the proper spacing to grow seed that remains true to type. She shared a variety of tips such as freezing seed before storing to kill any insects that may be hiding within, waiting to devour it.


Tools for Creating a Nutrient Management Plan in Organic Systems


Three presenters, well-versed in all things soil, expounded on the details of creating a nutrient management plan. Ben Bowell (Oregon Tilth and USDA-NRC S), Doug Collins (WSU Small Farms & Extension) and Adam McCurdy (Oxbow Farm and Education Center) used science and practical farm applications to describe the importance of soil tests, the mineralization of nitrogen, and the difference between pH and buffer pH in your soil. Though soil science can be daunting, this wise trio offered useful resources provided by Oregon State University and Washington State University that explain the nutrient management process, including spreadsheets to plan it all out.


New Apple Orchard Development: From the Soil Up


Anyone who lives or farms in the Northwest knows that cider apple production and cider making are popular topics. In this workshop, Nick Gunn (Wandering Aengus Ciderworks), Keith Kisler (Finn River Farm and Cidery) and Mark Mazzola (USDAARS) gave a view of what it takes to establish a new cider orchard operation, from soil biology through cider making. They gave tips on soil amendments to achieve proper tree root establishment, the types of equipment required for dedicated orcharding, apple varieties, and how those varieties affect end products. Imagine Organic Solutions: Spotted Wing Drosophila and Brown Marmorated Stink Bug Amy Dreves from Oregon State University gave a thoroughly engaging presentation on insects that are the bane of any fruit and vegetable grower: spotted wing drosophila (SWD) and brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB). She stressed the importance of understanding the life cycles of these pests, including where they hide out, to complete appropriate monitoring and mass trapping. Amy’s research showed that proactive prevention management is critical. She also brought with her an array of SWD trapping devices, explaining the usefulness of each.


Designing for Plant Disease Management on your Organic Vegetable Farm One of the most popular workshops at T40 addressed the perennially important topic of plant disease management. Alex Stone from Oregon State University presented on several different diseases common to Northwest growers including clubroot, downy mildew, crown and root rot, and various rusts. She stressed the importance of long rotations—six to eight years!—to control for soil borne pathogens. Besides rotation, she iterated the use of proper field sanitation and planting resistant varieties. Alex also suggested the use of Cornell University’s vegetable disease diagnosis resources to help farmers determine exactly what disease they are dealing with.


Farm-to-School: Reason, Rules, and Realities


Tricia Kovacs (WSDA Food Safety & Consumer Services), Jim McGreevy (Cloudview EcoFarms) and Joan Qazi (WSFFN Farmto- School) gave a nuts-and-bolts presentation on farm-to-school programming in Washington State. They provided suggestions for both farmers and school districts to solve issues such as food processing, pricing, delivery logistics, and food safety. Stressing that communication is key, the presenters encouraged farmers and school buyers to utilize the many resources available to get the ball rolling, including wafarmtoschool.org. The presentation offered a hopeful outlook for farm-to-school to become more accessible to both Washington farmers and school districts.


State of Organic Seed


This roundtable session facilitated by Cathleen McCluskey from the Organic Seed Alliance gave farmers an opportunity to discuss needs as related to organic seed. On overview of seed options and the impact of policy decisions was provided. After sharing the most recent report from OSA’s national organic seed assessment, Cathleen provided an interactive space for farmers to offer their perspectives on how to improve the availability, quality and integrity of organic seed.


Cover Crops: Rye Not Vetch Some Oats, Peas?


A popular topic, this session presented by Scott Latham of Sauvie Island Organics offered an overview of implementing cover crops, including the different types, planting methods, seeding rates, and necessary equipment. Scott provided ideas for cover crop combinations and experimenting with planting cover crops in winter, stressing that there are always many options. Methods to prevent cover crops from becoming a weed problem were noted. Scott also discussed the usefulness of sudan grass, sunflower, phacelia, and oats.


Tilth Producers looks to provide farmers with information that will be useful to their operation. Your direct input can shape future programs. Email [email protected] or call 206-632-7506 with ideas for Tilth Producers educational programmingincluding the annual conference in Spokane, WA, November 13-15, 2015.

Tags: Crop, ecological, Holistic, Insects, Management, Pollination

pdf2015_25_1_Winter Specialty Crop Programming.pdf