VANCOUVER, Wash. — Organic certification of a research plot at Washington State University’s Vancouver Research and Extension Unit will help WSU support the state’s growing organic agriculture industry. The 2.1- acre plot is the first WSU property to receive organic certification from the Washington State Department of Agriculture.
The land will be immediately used for various vegetable growing experiments, according to Cooperative Extension faculty Carol Miles who, along with colleague Martin Nicholson, led the effort for certification. In the future, the land will also be used for variety trials and to research organic pest management techniques.
Miles points out that research on organic farming techniques is in keeping with WSU’s mission of supporting the state’s agricultural diversity. “WSU works with all kinds of growers in a variety of agricultural systems, and organic is just one of them,” she said.
“We’ve been doing a great deal of on-farm research on organic techniques, but this is the first time we will have the ability to conduct our research within a completely organic system on the station,” Miles said. “An organic production system will enable us to conduct our studies in a field situation that more closely resembles what organic farmers experience and thus will produce results closer to what farmers would see in their own fields. This makes our research far more relevant to the farmers.”
Organic farming is a fast growing industry, according to Marcy Ostrom, urban and small farm specialist at the WSU Puyallup Research and Extension Center. “We’re seeing 20 percent growth per year in the organic food market nationally, and it’s critical that we gather the information and do the research to help this growing segment of the agricultural industry,” she said.
Chris Feise, director of WSU’s Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources, agrees. “Organic farming is a growing and profitable segment of the agricultural industry and we want to help all farmers, including organic farmers, compete as best they can,” Feise said. “There is significant consumer interest in organically grown foods, and increasing consumer demand is generating more interest among traditional growers in moving in that direction.”
There is a great deal of change within the industry right now, with new legislation placing increasing emphasis on conservation, reduced chemical use and water quality improvement. All growers can benefit from the research into organic techniques according to Feise. “All farmers are interested in reducing costs and reducing the potential for chemical contamination. Farmers who are using chemicals can gain knowledge from organic research about less toxic approaches that they can apply profitably in their operations,” he said.
For organic grower Anne Schwartz of Blue Heron Farm near the Upper Skagit Valley town of Rockport, research done on a certified organic plot will be a boon to all farmers.
“There is more awareness in the farming community in biological pest control, water and soil quality and improving farm worker safety, and this research is critical to address these gaps,” Schwartz said. “Having a certified organic research plot is significant because the research conditions will be much closer to what growers are dealing with.”
Obtaining organic certification involves applying to the Washington state agriculture department and demonstrating that no pesticides have been applied to the plot within the past three years. The 2.1-acre plot receiving the organic certification is part of a 5-acre parcel that has been maintained as mowed pasture for the past ten years and has received no pesticide, fertilizer or other chemical applications during that time.
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