Exploring Best Organic Soil/Pest Management Practice through Farm Systems Analyses (FSAs) of Organic Vegetable Farms

Thursday, July 25, 2013: 1:45 PM
Desert Salon 4-6 (Desert Springs J.W Marriott Resort )
Alexandra Stone , Horticulture, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
Helen Atthowe , Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
William Snyder , Washington State University, Pullman, WA
Michelle Wander , Dept of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL
The goal of this project is to improve the environmental, economic, and social sustainability of organic vegetable farms by facilitating the understanding and adoption of effective, research- and farm-based, systems approaches to soil and pest management. These methods are needed to manage critical and seemingly intractable soil/pest problems such as aphids, nitrogen supply, diseases, and weeds, as well as interrelationships amongst these factors. Draft FSAs have been developed of two Oregon and one Montana organic vegetable farms that a) are pushing the envelope on "systems management;" b) have successfully managed common pest and soil management problems through systems management; c) have at least 15 years of detailed farm records; and d) have partnered with university researchers in on-farm research studies. FSAs were developed by the farmers in cooperation with research/extension faculty with expertise in pests and soils and with eOrganic, the national organic agriculture information portal at eXtension.org/organic_production. The FSAs include: 1)intensive interviews with each farmer to document farm history and farming practices, how their farming philosophy and practices have changed over time, pest and soil challenges they have overcome (or not), and trends they have observed on their farm; 2) detailed farm maps; 3) aggregation and analysis of farmer- and researcher-collected data sets; and 4) literature reviews. Problem-focused cross-farm "stories" (for example, on suppression of caterpillars and aphids) are also developed to describe trends that are observed on multiple farms. Farm systems analyses and stories will be published at http://eXtension.org/organic_production.   Trends and research questions emerging from the FSAa will be described. The most obvious cross-farm trend is that aphids and caterpillars on brassicas were but are no longer a problem on these farms (and it is not clear why), while brassica flea beetles, onion thrips, and cucumber beetles remain problems. Overall, the farmers report that crop health and quality seems to be improving over time; the exception is that winter squash losses during storage are increasing (and it is not clear why).  The FSAs have inspired researcher-led projects on mechanisms of suppression of caterpillars and aphids as well as squash storage diseases, and farmer-led projects on nutrient management in high tunnel tomatoes and nutrient balancing and insectary plantings in onions for thrip and downy mildew management.
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