PUYALLUP, Wash. – A 16-member organic farming systems team led by Craig Cogger, a soil nutrient management specialist at Washington State University’s Puyallup Research and Extension Center, has landed a $644,232 grant from the USDA-CSREES Integrated Organic Program to design production strategies for stewardship and profit on fresh market organic farms.
“Our team is partnering with farmers west of the Cascades to help them develop innovative and sustainable farming systems to meet local demands for organic foods while building soil quality,” said Cogger.
The long-term goal of the four-year project is to improve the agronomic and economic competitiveness of fresh-market organic farms by developing integrated, systems-based solutions to a farm’s most significant soil and pest problems.
Cogger’s team will investigate the relationships between production management strategies, soil quality, weed pressure, and crop productivity to improve farming system design and performance.
“Our research will include a long-term organic systems experiment we established at Puyallup in 2003,” said Cogger. “We have also organized a group of commercial organic farms with different management practices from which we regularly gather soil quality data to compare with our own long-term systems experiment.”
Another objective is to analyze the potential economic costs, returns, and risks of organic vegetable production systems in the maritime Northwest. Special emphasis will be placed on small and limited-resource producers for whom direct sales of specialty crops, such as fresh-market fruits and vegetables, as well as poultry, have proven to be an essential ingredient for capturing high returns per acre and generating improved family income.
“We will determine what makes the most sense economically for the producers and for long-term sustainability of the soil,” Cogger said. “While this project is not aimed at marketing strategies, it will couple nicely with co-investigator Marcy Ostrom’s independent research on direct marketing aimed at designing and improving the environmental and economic stability of organic production west of the Cascades.” Ostrom is director of the WSU Small Farm Teams project.
The team will also develop an innovative organic farming education program in cooperation with producers, producer organizations, and the WSU Small Farms Team. The program will targeted at new and existing organic farmers, farmers who are in transition, students, and agricultural professionals.
“The program also includes outreach to non-traditional groups, such as the Hmong community who have quite a few small farms in the area,” said Cogger. “We have been successful building ties and they are now partnering on the project.”