From the Field: Carrot Harvest and Field Day

cioa-field-dayIn mid-August OSA’s Micaela Colley and Laurie McKenzie joined our Carrot Improvement for Organic Agriculture (CIOA) research partners from University of Wisconsin-Madison and Washington State University to harvest and evaluate carrots from the project at the Mercer Canyon Ranch in Kennewick, WA.

The trial included a diverse collection of colored carrots trialed in both organic and conventional plots. All of the carrots are being evaluated for nutritional and flavor components at the University of Wisconsin-Madison under the direction of CIOA project leader Dr. Phil Simon.

Following the harvest, the research team hosted a well-attended field day at the WSU Extension field station in Pasco, WA. OSA and Dr. Simon presented the CIOA project to the group of farmers and seed industry representatives at the field day. Participants also taste-tested a sampling of CIOA carrots. Interesting and useful dialogue about the differences between carrot types, colors, and uses was spurred as everyone gathered around the tasting table.

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Silage Corn Trials for Organic Dairy Farms in California

silage-corn-4weeksDairy farming is an integral part of agriculture on the North Coast of California. The climate and the soils of North Coast deltas, river valleys, and flood plains allow dairy farmers to graze cows on excellent pasture for most of the year. However, some supplemental feed is required, including grain, hay, and silage. Silage corn is corn grown to near maturity, then harvested as a whole plant, chopped, and fermented (ensiled) to increase its digestibility.

Although silage corn is just a small part of the diet of these dairy cows, it is nonetheless an important crop. North Coast area silage producers face a couple of challenges. The first challenge is that the area is drastically different from the major corn producing areas. When OSA’s Jared Zystro shared the local temperatures with a corn breeder in the Midwest, she thought there was a typo. There are few varieties able to mature in the area because of the cool summers. The second challenge is that the major corn breeding companies focus on releasing varieties with genetically engineered (GE) traits. Because of this, some local farmers feel that if they want access to the newest and best silage corn varieties, they need to use GE corn.

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An Update From the Southeast

Field day 5The first southeast U.S. organic cucurbit variety trails and field day occurred this summer as part of theOrganic Cucurbit Research Project being led by Cornell University and supported by OSA, North Carolina State University, and Auburn University. Farmers participating in the project are building experience and knowledge in conducting their own variety trials and have established a network for ongoing collaboration. These momentous events represent the development of a strong southeastern organic seed system foundation.

The Organic Cucurbit Research Project includes organic melon, squash, and cucumber variety trials to support future breeding work by developing varieties resistance to Downy Mildew, Striped Cucumber Beetles, and viruses. This year OSA participated in trials on six farms throughout North Carolina and co-hosted a field day at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville, NC to share initial results of the trials. The weather wasn’t too cooperative for a field day, but the trial could not have been planned better. The crops were at the ideal stage for trail evaluations and there were ripe melons for our taste test. This project is funded through a grant from the USDA Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) and will go through the next two years.

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Harvest Season in California

wheat-CaOSA’s organic wheat trials are coming to a close for the year in California. This month we harvested the commercial trial in Upper Lake, which included many spring wheat varieties. We’re also hosting a wheat field tour this Friday. See our events page for details.

This year we began working with Northern California organic farmer Blake Richards of Wild Rose Farm to improve his diverse quinoa variety. Quinoa is an important and emerging crop, with relatively little breeding yet done for U.S. organic farmers outside of a handful of dedicated farmers and researchers. We recently harvested seed from over sixty excellent quinoa single plant selections from Blake’s 16-acre quinoa field. Next year we will plant plots from each of these plants in a trial to refine Blake’s stock seed.

This month we are harvesting onion and red peppers from our variety trials with Phil Foster of Pinnacle Organic Produce. Our trial is set to find onions that yield well in Phil’s organic system, and have good flavor, resistance to pink root, and excellent storing ability. We are evaluating Italian-type red peppers for their yield, leaf canopy, disease resistance, flavor, and wall thickness. We will also be working with San Francisco Bay Area chefs to find onion and pepper varieties with excellent culinary qualities.

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A Letter From Our Director

Mic-fieldOSA recently bid farewell to staff member and friend Dr. John Navazio, who is re-locating cross-country to work as a plant breeder for Johnny’s Selected Seeds. After serving more than ten years as our senior scientist, we’re sad to see him go, but excited for the opportunity before him.

We can’t thank John enough for his years of service to OSA. As a visionary co-founder of the organization, he helped establish organic plant breeding as a professional field and philosophy. His expertise and leadership shaped our organization’s research and education programs, which in turn have supported the expansion of the industry he now enters. We couldn’t be prouder of his accomplishments.

Thankfully John’s departure comes at a time when our research team is growing, which includes three additional staff members with plant breeding and seed research expertise. Our plant breeding program is expanding with breeding work on the ground through research partnerships with seven universities and dozens of farmers across the country. In 2015 our first public variety release, ‘Who Gets Kissed?’ sweet corn, will become commercially available through High Mowing Organic Seeds. Our second release,  ‘Abundant Bloomsdale’ spinach is currently being offered to seed companies for trial.

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